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Sunday, February 28, 2021

‘On the precipice of real and lasting change’

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As a Black man — and an American — I was horrified when I saw the video of George Floyd being held down and murdered by a group of police officers in Minneapolis. As a former law enforcement officer, it made me even more certain what I and many others have known for a long time: Our criminal justice system is rigged against Black people, and it needs to change.

The crisis of police brutality toward Black people has been going on for generations. In our community, nearly every Black parent has “the talk” with their children at a certain age. But this conversation isn’t about how life begins; it’s about how Black lives, and futures, can be ended in an instant at the hands of the very people who swore an oath to protect and serve. 

I’m no stranger to this threat. At the age of 17, I was unjustly arrested outside of a mosque. It was a pivotal moment in my life that showed how the color of my skin makes me, and people like me, a target of needless suspicion and hostility.

Since then, I have made reforming our criminal justice system a focal point of my career in public service. We’ve had successes, but change has been frustratingly slow, and we continue to lose Black lives to this epidemic of brutality and racism. 

But thanks to the massive engagement and advocacy we have seen over the last few weeks, I believe we are turning a corner toward justice. I want to thank all of the Hoosiers, and people across America, of all backgrounds who have loudly and proudly proclaimed, “Black Lives Matter.” Because of your tireless and bold advocacy, I believe we are on the precipice of real and lasting change.

Last week, Congress took a big step in this direction by introducing the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. This landmark piece of legislation is the culmination of years of work and collaboration with a large coalition of stakeholders like the Congressional Black Caucus and many civil rights organizations. If passed, it will implement unprecedented and much-needed reforms to ensure better policing across America. This includes strong efforts to stop racial profiling, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement, demilitarize police forces, establish training programs to change the culture of law enforcement, finally make lynching a federal crime, and much more. I’m particularly pleased that it also includes a provision I fought for requiring officers to use dashboard and body cameras.

This is a great start, and I will keep working to get this bill passed. But we can’t forget that making change at the local and state levels is equally important, since many decisions regarding law enforcement are made locally. Local oversight of Merit Protection Boards and review of Use of Force procedures are equally important to prevent the unnecessary and inappropriate use of lethal force.

Perhaps most importantly, we have to keep up the grassroots advocacy that has helped propel our movement forward. I felt this powerful energy when I joined protestors at night in downtown Indianapolis. A few days later, I was honored to attend and speak at a massive Black Lives Matter rally, also in downtown, on a Saturday afternoon. It turned out to be the biggest protest against racial inequality our city has seen in decades, and it was organized by a group of young women who turned their anguish into action. We gathered by the thousands to honor the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon Reed, Aaron Bailey and the countless other Black people whose lives were tragically cut short. 

While we can’t bring them back, we can continue to say their names, and honor their memories by enacting reforms that save lives in the future. I have faith we will achieve this thanks to the passionate energy and advocacy of everyday Americans who are saying, “enough is enough.”

 Rep. Carson represents the 7th District of Indiana. He is a Member of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of three Muslims in Congress. Rep. Carson sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, where he is chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation. Contact Rep. Carson at carson.house.gov/contact.

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