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, entered the following statement into the Congressional Record to recognize Juneteenth, celebrated on Friday, June 19, 2020:
“Mr. President, tomorrow, we will commemorate the 155th Juneteenth — the celebration of the end of chattel slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers delivered the news of liberation to one of the last remaining confederate outposts in Galveston, Texas — the Civil War had ended and the last remaining enslaved Black Americans were free. General Gordon’s decree would arrive over two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
“For millions of Black Americans, Juneteenth traditionally has been a celebration of this freedom; it is also a day of reflection and education on a history that we all must confront. There is much to inform us about our present times that we can learn from the story of Juneteenth. It is the story of America, the story of my home state of Maryland. Each year, I aim to share these lessons and resources with my constituents through my office and in recognizing the continued work we must do to elevate Black history and create a more tolerant society. This year, my office will close to commemorate the holiday and allow staff the time to reflect on its important historical lessons.
“Juneteenth is a reminder that even after the signing of Abraham Lincoln’s seminal declaration, that even in a Nation whose founding documents should have enshrined liberty and justice for all of its inhabitants, freedom was a dream deferred for Black Americans. It is a reminder that liberation was hard fought by those who were denied it, including abolition leaders like Marylanders Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, who then passed the torch to civil rights leaders and social movements past and present who are still fighting to realize equal justice under law. Equal justice under law is a promise the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation all made but it remains elusive, so the struggle continues.
“In this way, Juneteenth is a quintessential American holiday. The institution of chattel slavery is interwoven throughout American history and would become the architecture for unjust systems that still stand today. The Juneteenth liberation would precede over a century of continued oppression – oppression through stigmatization, policymaking, voter disenfranchisement, and Jim Crow segregation laws — which continued to widen the gaps of social, economic, and political achievement for Black Americans in our society. Acknowledging its sinister legacy and the efforts to chip away at it are critical to understanding how to dismantle it from its core.
“Through the lens of recent tragedies – the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and, just this week, Rayshard Brooks – and the worldwide anti-racism protests they have sparked, this education is more important than ever. We are being called to connect the dots in our history and take action to bring about meaningful change, to save lives, and to right the wrongs of the past. We are being called, yet again, to answer: in what ways are our Constitutional promises still left unfulfilled for Black Americans?
“Answering this question is essential to addressing police and criminal justice reform. From the establishment of deputized slave patrols in the American South, to the enforcement of segregation laws through the1960s, to mass incarceration and disproportionate police violence in our present day, Black Americans have often faced systemic racism that the law either required or permitted. The same 13th Amendment that abolished slavery did so in all forms except incarceration, shrouding the institution in a new light and enabling the continued suppression of freedom and rights.
“Today, Black Americans are still twice as likely to be killed by police as white Americans. And despite representing only 12 percent of the U.S. adult population, Black Americans make up 33 percent of the sentenced prison population. We have seen the brutal videos, we see the painful list of names of men and women killed at the hands of police brutality, we see the effects of this cyclical system on the health of our communities and families every day. We must act to stop it.
“The roots of systemic racism in law enforcement were planted centuries ago and can be unraveled with targeted and conscious action. This is why I have been proud to work with my colleagues Senators Booker and Harris on crafting police reform legislation that works toward justice and systemic change, the Justice in Policing Act. This broader legislation includes two bills I have introduced for several years, the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act and the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act. The Justice in Policing Act would prohibit racial profiling, improve officer training, and hold officers accountable for the misconduct that keeps alive the culture has reinforced centuries of oppression. I hope the senate can pass this bill. Equal treatment of individuals under the law must not be a partisan issue.
“All Americans must recognize and celebrate Juneteenth so that we may face these harsh realities about our past and present and understand that the fight for freedom is ongoing. We cannot ignore our past, for it is with us here in the present in many forms. The wounds of our Nation will not heal until we identify and name their source, and commit to doing the work – in Congress and in our communities – to mend them. Freedom has never been free, nor has it ever come easily. Let us celebrate liberation by doing everything we can to fight for it for generations to come.”
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