Castro urges Dems to seize moment on social reform

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said Democrats must seize on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enact meaningful reform that would move closer toward racial equality if Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris to host virtual Hollywood campaign event co-chaired by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling Trump plans to accept Republican nomination from White House lawn US seizes four vessels loaded with Iranian fuel MORE wins the White House and Democrats control Congress.

Castro likened the possible outcome to other moments in history that have led to meaningful change.

“If you’re a policymaker, you understand like [President Lyndon Johnson] did in the ’60s, that you have these certain moments. You had a moment where you could pass the Fair Housing Act after the passing of Martin Luther King. You had a moment where you could pass the Voting Rights Act after the march in Selma and Bloody Sunday,” said Castro.


“We have a moment.”

Speaking on “Reflections,” a series of digital interviews conducted by The Hill on systemic racism and implicit bias in the United States, Castro pointed to Colorado and Los Angeles as two positive examples of reforming the relationship between law enforcement and community residents.

“You need to strike while the iron is hot, while people do have that moment of clarity and politically you have the room, the latitude, to go further than you usually would, I think in a good way,” said Castro.

Colorado last month passed the Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act, which strengthens police transparency, body camera and use-of-force regulations and makes officers personally liable for their conduct on the job. In Los Angeles, the City Council approved a measure to replace police first responders with community-based first responders, such as mental health care workers.

Castro, who dropped his 2020 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in January, said Biden’s approach to key social and law enforcement issues will lay the groundwork needed for the long-term dismantling of systemic racism.

“The vice president has been very forthright about the fact that we do need to improve our system when it comes to law enforcement and public safety, that we have these shortcomings in the system,” said Castro.


He added that he was impressed with Biden’s characterization of police reform as “a down payment on the changes we need to make.”

One of the challenges going forward, Castro said, is expanding police reforms to other aspects of public policy affected by racism.

“When it comes to housing and health care, unlike policing, that we can see the impact of that in a dramatic and tragic moment like the choking death of George Floyd, you just don’t see that. People aren’t able to grasp, I think, oftentimes, how this affects the lives of people when it comes to housing opportunity and health care opportunity in the same way,” said Castro.

“I don’t think that we’ve grappled with systemic racism in the health care sector or the housing sector or other sectors the way that we’re grappling with it in law enforcement,” he added.

Legislation is one way to tackle some of the problems, Castro said, noting that much progress has been made in recent decades to build a legislative framework that allows for combating racism in many policy areas.

“There’s no question that over the years there have been a number of laws, there’s been a lot of writing policy at the federal, state and local level to try and address systemic racism and bigotry, whether you take the big legislation of the 1960s like the Fair Housing Act or others that have been passed,” said Castro.

“But here’s the thing, is that it takes teeth and it takes constant implementation. And it also takes cultural change,” he said.

By that measure, Castro said, Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTrump administration ends Obama fair housing rule Castro urges Dems to seize moment on social reform Overnight Health Care: Fauci says 'bizarre' efforts to discredit him only hurt the White House | Alabama to require face masks | House panel probes 'problematic' government contracts MORE, his successor at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE have fallen far short.

“Unfortunately, this administration has completely failed to put any kind of teeth into the Fair Housing Act and to go out there and root out continued discrimination and the effect of bigotry in our housing system,” said Castro.

Castro criticized the Trump administration’s attacks on the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, an Obama-era policy meant to bolster the Fair Housing Act by ordering jurisdictions that receive federal housing funds to measure and limit their discriminatory patterns. Biden has pledged to reinstate the policy.

According to Trump, the AFFH would “eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down.”

“They put it on ice, we had put it forward in 2016,” Castro said, referring to the Obama-era rule. Still, Castro acknowledged that his political opponents aren’t the only ones resistant to meaningful reform on race issues.


He pointed to the Hispanic community as an example.

“All you have to do is turn on Telemundo or Univisión and watch those telenovelas or mostly who’s on the news and you see that colorism exists, and there is an anti-blackness, anti-darkness that I would say Black Latinos and dark-skinned Indigenous Latinos have gotten the shorter end of for a very long time,” said Castro.

“What can we do about that? Well, I think that we have to engage in many of the same things: questioning the assumptions that we have, hiring policies in our own businesses, in our own public institutions,” he added.

Castro said the moment of clarity on race relations is especially important to the Democratic Party, even if it means confronting some hard realities.

“In cities across the country that have had Democratic mayors, these issues have still been a challenge. Oftentimes, police unions have had a lot of sway with city council members and with mayors because they contribute to campaigns, they’re big players in local government. That means that within the Democratic Party we have to be able to take on what have sometimes been sacred cows,” said Castro.

“I think there’s a moment right now where we can do that. But we’re not going to get there if we let this moment pass,” he added.