Republicans and Democrats have not been able to come together to pass police reform legislation in response to nationwide protests after George Floyd’s death, but Monday the House followed the Senate to pass the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act.
The legislation sponsored by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) in the House and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in the Senate, passed in the House by a 368-1 vote and which now heads to President Donald Trump for his signature.
Once formed, the commission will be housed within the Office of the Commission on Civil Rights and the group will examine issues that affect black men and boys, develop solutions to these problems and help eliminate the hurdles. The commission will then be required to produce an annual report which will be made public.
The legislation calls for the commission to include a 19-person panel consisting of lawmakers, federal departments, and non-governmental experts to investigate and create guidelines on how to reverse “potential civil rights violations affecting black males and study the disparities they experience in education, criminal justice, health, employment, fatherhood, mentorship, and violence.”
Wilson said, “I am elated that this legislation, which I have been fighting for several years to pass, is now poised to become national law.” She said many old laws like the 1994 crime bill will be revisited.
“These federal policies left a devastating impact on black men and boys in America,” said Wilson. “The commission’s underlying goal is to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and to better understand and eventually eliminate the educational and social chasms that have made it extraordinarily difficult for black males to become upwardly mobile.”
“We’ve come a long way in America, but we still have a long way to go. Slavery was not a necessary evil, it was a crime against humanity,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said on the floor, referencing part of the remarks Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) made on the history of slavery while speaking to Arkansas newspaper.
Cotton told the Arkansas Democratic-Gazette, that students should study slavery’s effect on the development of America, “As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction,” Cotton said.
Congressman Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) gave examples from his time as a defense attorney in support of the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act.
“As a defense attorney, I saw how sentence disparities on drug crimes, minimum mandatory sentencing, school board sentencing, pretrial release policies often had racial impacts,” he said during the debate. “By creating a bipartisan commission to study inequality in government programs, we take the necessary steps to identify and address disparities for black American men and boys,” Armstrong said.
Companion legislation introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) passed in the Senate on June 25.
“A lack of economic opportunity and prosperity for black men is a tragedy for our nation. The United States needs their talents to solve the challenges of our time.” Rubio said in a statement in support of the legislation.
“Racial inequality for black men in our country has caused significant economic and social disparities and contribute to a racial wealth gap that ultimately harms all Americans. This commission will address the long-standing societal gaps that have harmed black men in America and lowered the prospect of upward mobility,” Booker said.