For the past four years I have had the honor of serving as Chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. When I took the gavel, I made a promise that this Subcommittee would give a platform to voices that are not often heard in the halls of Congress. And, it is not enough to hear these witnesses; we must take their words and translate them into action.
This week, as Chairman of the Subcommittee. It focused on the state of civil and human rights in the United States today, a topic that is very timely given recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), U.S. Representatives Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), as well as leaders from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union testified at my hearing.
It is clear from recent events in our country, along with the testimony I heard this week and over the past four years, that there is still work left to do to advance the cause of justice and create a more perfect union.
When our government still believes that it is acceptable – in the name of security – to profile people based on their race, national origin or religion, there is more work to do. When Muslim Americans are the targets of violent hate crimes simply because of their religion, there is more work to do. When unarmed African-American men and boys are killed, and their names – Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner – bring tears to our eyes, there is more work to do. And, when protestors take to the streets to shout out, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” or, “I can’t breathe,” there is more work to do.
Congress must play its part and we can start by moving forward a number of bipartisan efforts to protect civil and human rights. I’m glad to say that shortly after my hearing, the Senate adopted the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which requires states and federal agencies to report basic information on deaths that occur in law enforcement custody to the Department of Justice. But, more can still be done. We should pass the Smarter Sentencing Act, which I introduced with Senator Mike Lee (R-UT). This legislation would make important reforms to our sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses, so our laws are as fair as they are tough. We should also restore federal voting rights for ex-offenders, which would affect some 5.8 million Americans who, after paying their debt to society, are still denied the right to vote.
Our identity as Americans is based on ideas and values, not ethnicity or creed. This is what makes our nation unique. The history of our country has been a slow march to fulfill the promise of our ideas. We can trace this from President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, to marches for freedom led by Dr. Martin Luther King, to the election of our first African-American President. Brave men and women have fought and sacrificed – sometimes even giving their lives – in the struggle to create the “more perfect union” that our national charter promised. I hope Congress can keep marching forward to fulfill this promise.
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Sent from the office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin