There is an urgent threat to civil rights in our country, and the head of the United States Department of Justice, William Barr, is immorally at the center.
In the evening of Monday June 1, people from all backgrounds were peacefully protesting outside the White House the assassination of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis. Attorney General Barr responded by ordering federal police and National Guard forces to disperse protesters by using tear gas and rubber bullets, injuring protestors and journalists covering the events alike.
Barr used military action to threaten Americans and now, more than ever, we must remember and wholeheartedly embrace the civil rights legacy of a man who held the position long before Barr, Robert F. Kennedy.
As Attorney General during the early 1960s, Kennedy worked with his brother President John Kennedy, as well as his successor as president, Lyndon Johnson, on the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial discrimination in voting, employment and public facilities.
Kennedy sent thousands of federal troops to Oxford, Mississippi, to enforce a U.S. Supreme Court order admitting the first black student, James Meredith, to the University of Mississippi. The segregationist Ross Barnett, the state’s governor at that time, had attempted to bar Meredith, whose enrollment prompted riots and violence at the school.
More than 50 years later, we bear witness to the un-American acts of the current administration.
While Kennedy’s civil rights record was not perfect, he repeatedly deployed federal forces on behalf of integration and to protect people. Barr, on the other hand, uses his power to send troops across the White House to target men and women who had the right to protest.
Barr’s action threatens the personal liberties and safety that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is supposed to preserve. In fact, Barr gutted the civil rights division of DOJ, and appointed Eric Drieband to run it regardless of strong opposition from numerous civil rights organizations given his career of defending corporations against discrimination lawsuits.
And now, it is up to communities to organize to protect our rights and rewrite the dominant narrative of anti-Black racism and repair the harm of the policies that flow from it.
Black communities express their outrage at the killing of Floyd and painfully many others. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray. All Black individuals who were assassinated by police forces without consequences.
Community Change was born into the heartbreak that followed the death of Kennedy as his living legacy to challenge the government to be a force for good, and to focus on people who are struggling to make ends meet, especially black and brown communities.
It is with that legacy in our minds and hearts that we work with partners across the country such as SPACES in Action in DC and ISAIAH in Minneapolis to build power through grassroots organizing by calling to defund the police state and invest in a caring economy.
Our society must end the militarization of the police and the use of force against people, just like Barr wrongly did this week. We demand equity for every child, regardless of the color of their skin. That’s why it is imperative to provide free and quality early childhood education to all children and other critical investments in our communities that dismantle the oppressive system that exists.
Black people have borne the brunt of racist laws and police brutality for generations; we cannot live in peril any longer. As communities continue to rise up to defend Black lives and protecting our civil rights, our United States government must stop the practice of systematically devaluing Black lives and Black neighborhoods in America. We must reform our justice system so our nation can thrive to new heights as Kennedy wanted.
By: LaDon Love, Executive Director of SPACES in Action; and Dorian Warren, Vice President of Community Change Action.
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