AJC New England 2020 Candidate Survey: Question 1
Racism, Immigration and Human Rights
Question 1: The murder of George Floyd is prompting a national discussion concerning our nation’s failure to fully address historic racial injustice. What is the role of Congress in defining and addressing historic injustices? What measures will you promote as a member of the United States Congress to combat racial injustice?
The George Floyd Act has sparked a movement in this country, and everyone--including candidates for Congress--must be prepared to offer concrete solutions to how we move forward. My Race and Criminal Justice policy calls for a sweeping set of reforms. First, we must reform policing to make it more accountable to the communities that police serve. We do this by passing national use of force laws, community oversight mechanisms, and national data collection on police use of force. In the medium term, we end practices like cash bail, mass incarceration, and for-profit policing. And finally, in the long term, we must realize that our best defense against racial injustice is education. That's why I have called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Education Act, an idea that I will champion from day one if elected.
The George Floyd Education Act calls for the creation of a commission to study black history education in America with the goal of making sure that every public school student engages critically with black history. Groups like Facing History and Ourselves have shown us that the power of education is unmatched in correcting the root causes of bigotry and hatred.
George Floyd's murder laid bare what's been true for generation after generation: institutional racism is real, systemic and part of the daily experience of every Black person. This is the reality in every city and town across the Commonwealth and across the country. The systemic racism ingrained in this country and our police forces is something that we need to be honest about and confront head on. As a country, we’re facing hard truths about bias, bigotry, racism, police violence, and economic justice. I believe strongly that Black Lives Matter and that institutional racism is real and deadly. As a candidate for Congress, I have a responsibility to amplify the millions who have protested, demonstrated, and stood in solidarity with Black people who have been targeted by law enforcement with stunning frequency. They are crying out for change. They are commanding us to do better.
We’re obligated to move forward with a collective commitment to reject the status quo and embrace societal change and racial justice. The problems in our police departments in particular are so significant and so widespread that there can’t only be one solution; instead, we need a broad set of reforms. To start, we need a deep and thoughtful examination of how we spend money on our police forces while simultaneously increasing funding for mental health, rehabilitation, and education. Additionally, I’m committed to promoting the demilitarization of police departments, ending qualified immunity for law enforcement, fully banning chokeholds, and creating civilian review boards to investigate police misconduct.
I also recognize that fighting for racial justice goes beyond reforming our police departments –– institutional racism is built into a whole range of institutions. Whether it’s confronting the legacy of discriminatory redlining practices that results in segregation and scarce affordable housing; or repairing the deep racial inequalities in school district funding; or fighting for equal voting rights since Shelby County V. Holder gutted the Voting Rights Act; or closing the racial wealth gap and providing Black entrepreneurs with access to capital, we have so much work to reverse 400 years of racial oppression. I’m committed to being a strong ally and advocate for these causes in Congress.
Congress has a role when it comes to addressing injustices in law enforcement in many ways. As it is true that state and local governments are responsible to the vast majority of police practices, the federal government can require certain things to be done by states in order to be eligible for law enforcement grants. President Trump issued an executive order when it comes to federal law enforcement reform, and Senator Tim Scott introduced the Justice Act in the Senate, and I believe his proposal makes the most sense. The measure includes incentives for police departments to ban chokeholds, more disclosure requirements about the use of force and no-knock warrants, and penalties for false reports. It also includes emergency grant programs for body cameras, makes lynching a federal hate crime and creates a commission to study the conditions facing black men and boys. Unfortunately Senate Democrats blocked it, and I hope with a Republican House, Senate, and White House, it can become law next year.
In the face of injustice, a leader needs to do three things: listen, speak out, and act. And that’s exactly what Congress needs to be doing at this pivotal moment in our history:
Congress must listen to the passionate outcry from Americans who are heartbroken and outraged at the murder of George Floyd. Of Breonna Taylor. Of Ahmaud Arbery. Their murders are all too familiar to members of the African American community across this country. Even after the groundbreaking achievements of the Civil Rights Era, too many of our Black and Brown people continue to suffer unjustly from racist policing, a biased court system, impediments to their voting rights, and chronic poverty.
And Congress must also speak out clearly. We must affirm that Black Lives Matter. We must make clear that we -- as a country -- will no longer sit silently by as systemic racism persists.
And then -- most importantly -- Congress needs to act. Specifically, I’ve proposed with Rev. Cornell W. Brooks, former President and CEO of the NAACP, that Congress establish an American Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, with initial funding appropriated at $50 million. This commission would not be meant to delay the demands for change but rather to amplify, intensify and expedite the transformation of those demands into significant legal, policy and cultural change.
The Commission will be composed of a diverse group of leaders who have strong moral authority. That can include leaders from different faith traditions, those with diverse lived experiences, including and especially people living in poverty, those who have experienced the harshest effects of our racist, anti-Black criminal justice system and young people who are at the forefront of calling for change. It will bring together participants from all four sectors of American society, public, private, non-profit and educational. The Commission would be tasked with bringing to light the vast array of America’s anti-Black racist structures and their negative impacts.
In addition, the Commission will hold public hearings across the country as well as in our nation’s capital. It will take testimony and receive evidence from a wide set of Americans from all backgrounds – rural and urban, North and South, professional, working class and low income. It will also hear from academics and policy experts. Ultimately, it would be charged with delivering a set of sweeping recommendations for transformational change in our criminal justice system, in our education system, including how we pay for public education in America, in our health care and public health system, and in our economic system.
Beyond my proposal for a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, I believe Congress must implement comprehensive criminal justice reform. That means ending mandatory minimums, outlawing private prisons, abolishing the death penalty, restoring Pell Grant access to prisoners, restoring voting rights to previously incarcerated individuals, eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement, and prohibiting the transfer of military weapons from the federal government to state and local law enforcement. These progressive reforms will help overturn the deeply-rooted racism embedded within our criminal justice system, and will help ensure economic security for new generations of Black and Brown Americans for years to come.
I’ve made fighting for racial justice, diversity, equity and inclusion, a centerpiece of my professional career. We started City Year with the goal of demonstrating how bringing together young people from all different backgrounds for an intensive year serving side by side in common purpose could turn on young people’s “justice nerves” and help complete the Civil Rights movement.
City Year was the very first youth service corps in America to bring together such a very diverse group of young people -- low income, middle income and affluent; former gang members and Ivy league graduates, city and suburb, African-American, Asian, Caucasian and Latino, people of different gender identities and sexual orientations, and all different faiths. Because we served as the inspiration and model for AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps is also open to people from all different backgrounds and now more than 1.1 million have served contributing more than 1.7 billion hours of service to our communities and country -- fighting poverty, fixing schools, preserving our environment, supporting seniors and veterans and doing disaster relief work.
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others, at a time when COVID-19 is disproportionately killing Black Americans, has created an important moment where the U.S. could make real change to address historic and ongoing racial injustice. As a social epidemiologist, I have spent years researching, advocating for, and implementing reforms to end systemic racism and documenting how government policies have resulted in segregation and inequitable outcomes. When I was Science Advisor to the New York City Health Commissioner, we explicitly worked to change the narrative from one purely focused on socio-economic status to one explicitly about racism and health. As a member of the COVID-19 Health Justice Committee for the Poor People’s Campaign, I continue to utilize my expertise to improve health and racial justice. Racism claims lives every day, not only through police violence, but through the disproportionate rates of maternal and neonatal deaths, through environmental racism, and through lower life expectancies of Black Americans.
Congress’ role and what I will promote as a Congresswoman is ensuring racial equity and justice are served through all policies by elevating the voices of BIPOC in Congress, in my office, and in the community. Congress needs to be explicit in saying that racism killed George Floyd, racism is killing Black moms and babies at disproportionate rates, and racism is letting a disproportionate number of Black Americans be unemployed and killed by COVID-19. Public health professionals know this, and Congress has a responsibility to start to repair the impact of hundreds of years of racist policies such slavery, redlining, and excluding agricultural and domestic workers from the 1935 Social Security Act. I am a strong advocate for reparations as the foundational piece of legislation to begin to address systemic racism and close the wealth and opportunity gap.
There is deep, systemic racism in the United States that permeates all of our systems and institutions, especially law enforcement and our criminal justice system. A systemic problem requires systemic reform and that means members of Congress have a responsibility to pass legislation to address these systemic inequities. Every single policy proposed or is being implemented must be scrutinized through the lens of inequity and discrimination.
I will advocate for the reallocation of federal funding from policing and incarceration to education, housing, building open spaces in our community, mental health services, and community-based solutions, especially in Black and Brown communities that have been disproportionately targeted by police brutality, mass incarceration, and crime. I’m one of only a few candidates in the race to sign the Defund Newton Police Department’s Refunding Community Safety pledge committing to doing just that.
In addition, I will support a variety of proposals to address our inequitable public safety approach, including:
- Amend the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 to end mandatory support for police forces and make restorative justice, youth employment and education programs eligible for grant fundings.
- Discontinue the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program and divert its more than $300 million in funding to local and state governments to build out non-law enforcement expertise in responding to calls for service.
- End qualified immunity, immediately.
- Make it a crime to deny medical care to someone in custody.
- Ban chokeholds, tear gas, no-knock warrants, stop-and-frisk, and “broken windows” policing.
- Improve oversight – including data on use of force – and expand independent investigations.
- Reassert the Justice Department’s authority to investigate racial profiling, police brutality, violence, and civil rights violations. Increase funding for the Office of Civil Rights.
- Establish all-civilian review boards for police misconduct and improve data collection on police-involved shootings and ethics violations.
- Expand use of body cameras.
I know that, as a white woman, my efforts at helping end racism must also mean centering the voices of Black and Brown leaders in my own continuing education about race and racism (as there is no finish line in this process). It must also mean amplifying Black and Brown voices, and understanding that there will be times when my role must be to listen and support rather than to speak.
Regarding inquiries 1-9, I plan to work with US Government Officials, Institutions and other subject matter experts to work towards addressing these important topics.
Systemic racism has had its knee on the throats of our black community for 400 years. We must seize this moment and purge systemic racism in all our systems, and I believe we must eliminate the underlying causes of racism. We need to reform our police, by ending police brutality and excessive use of force, demilitarizing the police, banning facial recognition technology, eliminating racial profiling, enforcing use of body cams, ending qualified police immunity, banning chokeholds, creating federal police certifications and decertifications, implementing national police diversity, bias and cultural competency training, creating national standards for use and threat of force and reallocating some police resources to education and community engagement. We also need to eliminate the systemic racism in our healthcare, education, housing, transportation, food and criminal justice systems, and in our environment.
But that is not enough. We need to go deeper if we want to truly eliminate the underlying causes of racism. No one is born a racist. No one is born to hate. This behavior is taught. Education and engagement are the antidote to eradicating racism in our country. We must double down on our investment to teach our youth at the earliest of ages that lies, prejudice and stereotypes can turn into hatred and racism and even worse, death.
We also need to elect and select diverse leaders who understand the diverse perspectives of their community, including more diversity in our political leaders, hospitals, police departments, schools, and in the boards and executive suites of our public, private and non-profit companies.
We must also protect the voting rights of all Americans, especially those in historically disenfranchised communities such as the Black and Latino communities. Finally, we must ensure everyone fills out their census questionnaire, as the data from the Census determines both equal representation and equal access to $800 billion in annual federal funds.
American Jewish Committee (AJC) is the leading organization dedicated to Jewish advocacy at home and around the world. Through a global network comprised of 24 domestic regional offices; 12 overseas posts in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East; and 37 partnerships with international Jewish communities, AJC engages with political, religious and civic leaders to combat antisemitism and bigotry, support Israel’s quest for peace and security, and advance democratic values at home and abroad.
AJC New England recently invited all 11 Republican and Democratic declared candidates for the Congressional seat from the 4th District of Massachusetts to participate in a survey on some matters of import to our community.
AJC is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan organization and does not endorse or support any candidate for elected office, whether or not they responded to the survey. We offer this survey to educate the electorate about the views of the candidates for this office.