WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, delivered the following statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday calling for Congress to take up meaningful legislation to reform policing nationwide, including ending racial profiling in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. His remarks come in the wake of ongoing protests around the world demanding justice for the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.
Video of Senator Cardin’s remarks can also be found here.
“Madam President, I rise today as the United States of America, again, faces the enormous challenge and responsibility of striving to live up to the preamble of the Constitution of the United States.
“The preamble provides: ‘We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’
“I note that our Founders, who were far from perfect when it came to racial issues, thought that justice was more important than domestic tranquility. They listed justice first. Today, America is grieving over the brutal and unnecessary death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Both State and Federal law enforcement officers are moving quickly to bring the police officers in this case to justice and hold them accountable for their actions, as Mr. Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe” went unanswered as the life drained out of him.
“Video taken by several witnesses show that George Floyd —who was Black and was unarmed—was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a police officer who held his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for his life. Mr. Floyd was on the ground, repeatedly telling the officer that he could not breathe. And despite the fact that bystanders are all heard on video begging the officer to relent, he did not remove his knee from Mr. Floyd’s neck until after an ambulance arrived.
“Eventually Mr. Floyd lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead after being transported to a local hospital.
“As leaders, regardless of party, we cannot stay silent about George Floyd’s death. Black lives matter. George Floyd was a father, a son, and a brother. His life mattered. He did not need to die. He and his family deserve justice. How many other Black men and women have died at the hands of law enforcement or vigilante civilians due to the color of their skin but have not been caught on video? Those victims deserve justice too.
“We must act, working together, to fundamentally reform the ways police across this Nation interact with the communities they serve. On Monday night, President Trump once again failed to lead this
Nation in a time of crisis, and he has forfeited his moral authority as President. Spraying tear gas at peaceful protesters to clear a path for a photo op is opposite of American values and basic human rights. It violates civil and human rights under any circumstances. President Trump fans the flames of racism and seeks to divide Americans for political purposes, just as he did in Charlottesville and far too many places since. He seems willfully blind to the reason people are protesting in the first place–to end systematic racism in the repeated and tragic targeting of Blacks by law enforcement.
“Congress, finally, must act to pass a comprehensive plan to reform police community relations, improve training and hiring of police officers, and hold police accountable for misconduct and use of excessive force. We must rebuild trust between the police and the communities they serve.
“For those who are asking, ‘Why did it take so long?’’ the answer is ‘We have been trying.’ It should not have taken so long, but year after year too many of my colleagues have put partisanship before justice and equality. As both the House and Senate prepare to hold hearings on police reform and racial profiling issues, I want to bring to my colleagues’ attention two pieces of legislation that I have filed: The End Racial and Religious Profiling Act and the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act. If enacted, these two bills could make an enormous difference and constitute a giant step forward in reforming police departments in America and rebuilding trust between police officers and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.
“The End Racial and Religious Profiling Act is designed to enforce the constitutional right to equal protection under the law by eliminating racial profiling at all levels of law enforcement by changing the policies and procedures underlying the practice.
“First, the bill provides a prohibition on racial profiling, enforceable by declaratory or injunctive relief. It creates a standard definition of racial profiling, which now includes religion, gender, and other protected categories for Federal, State, and local law enforcement, enforcing criminal, civil, and immigration laws.
“Can law enforcement still provide a detailed description of a suspect that includes race? The answer is yes. But the bill prohibits blanket targeting solely based on race or one of the other protected categories.
“This bill also mandates training on racial profiling issues as part of Federal law enforcement training, the collection of data on all routine and spontaneous investigatory activities, and the creation of procedures for receiving, investigating, and responding meaningfully to complaints alleging racial profiling by law enforcement.
“Systematic racism will not disappear overnight. We must engage all law enforcement in aggressive training and then have data to show where there is progress and where challenges remain. Our bill authorizes the Department of Justice grants for the development and implementation of best policing practices.
“The second bill is the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act that I have filed. The Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act takes a comprehensive approach at addressing the issue of police accountability and building trust between police departments and their communities.
“This legislation provides incentives for local police organizations to voluntarily adopt performance-based standards to ensure that instances of misconduct will be minimized through appropriate management, training, and oversight protocols. The bill provides that if such incidents do occur, they will be properly investigated.
“The bill provides police officers–the vast majority of whom perform their job professionally, putting their lives on the line daily, protecting their communities–with the tools necessary to improve community relations and enhance their professional growth and education.
“It authorizes $25 million for additional expenses related to the enforcement of civil rights statutes, including compliance with consent decrees or judgments regarding police misconduct brought by the
Department of Justice.
“In Baltimore City, for example, the Baltimore Police Department voluntarily entered into a consent decree in 2017 with the U.S. Department of Justice to overhaul the police department. An earlier
Department of Justice report had found a widespread pattern and practice of illegal and unconstitutional conduct by the Baltimore Police Department through targeting African-American residents for disproportionate and disparate treatment.
“The legislation I have authored also authorizes appropriations for additional expenses related to conflict resolution, including programs managed by the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Services within the Civil Rights Division. I am pleased that, to date, the protests in Baltimore have been largely peaceful, especially compared to 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore Police Department custody.
“I do hope my fellow Americans look to Baltimore in 2020 as an example for how to peacefully protest and petition the government for redress of grievances, as Baltimore has willingly agreed to work with the U.S. Department of Justice to overhaul its entire police force so that policing its citizens is both fair and effective.
“As many of my colleagues have said before, “Civil Rights is still the unfinished business of America.” Prejudice, discrimination, and outright racism continues to limit the lives of the large number of our people. We must continue the struggle today in order to make urgent progress.
“As I close, I am reminded of my dear friend, the late Representative Elijah Cummings, who died last year. He was a fellow Baltimorean and fellow graduate of the University of Maryland Law School. He gave the eulogy for Freddie Gray in 2015, who died after being arrested and taken into police department custody.
“During the church service, he closed with a quote from the Book of Amos: I want justice, oceans of it. I want fairness, rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
“Elijah also asked a pointed question of those of us at the funeral that day, as well as to the news cameras that were broadcasting the event nationally and around the world. Elijah asked: ‘Did anyone recognize Freddie when he was alive . . . did anyone see him?’ Elijah asked whether society had done all that it could have done when Gray was “struggling to simply be all God meant for him to be?”
“Today, I ask my fellow Americans to ask that question when it comes to the lives of not only George Floyd but Tony McDade, Sean Reed, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. And I say here today to Black Americans: I see you. I hear you. You are men and women. You have families. You have the same rights as every other individual in this country.
“In a 2019 interview with “60 Minutes,” Steve Kroft noted as follows: Cummings is not a patient man. It’s a lesson he learned from his late grandmother, who imparted her mindset shortly before she died. White people, she told him, had been telling African Americans to wait–and he shouldn’t. She says, ‘Your daddy, he been waiting and waiting and waiting for a better day,’ Cummings recalled. She said, ‘He’s going to wait, and he’s going to die.’ She said, ‘Don’t you wait.’
“Then, in his late sixties, Elijah Cummings said that when he looks into the future, he also reflects on his life. ‘I realized that with African American people, where we’ve been blocked from being all that
God meant for us to be, I don’t have time to be patient.’ Yes, Elijah often said of America that ‘we are better than this.’ Let’s prove Elijah right. I urge the Senate not to be patient any longer and wait for the next death of an African American in police custody before taking action. Let us hold our hearings and then expeditiously take up and pass legislation, including the two bills I have explained on the floor today, as the next steps in establishing justice in our still imperfect Union.
“I yield the floor.”