Brand New Congress

Will I Be Next?

Will I Be Next?

Will I Be Next?

Although February is Black History Month, we cannot celebrate fully yet. The United States has moved on from slavery and segregation, we still have a long way to go. We still have not seen full justice yet. It is evident that we are still experiencing racism in our justice system. Black Americans are still being wrongfully accused of crimes and are still being interrogated by police to plead guilty of a crime they did not commit. In the United States, Black youth are 5x more likely to be incarcerated than white youth in 2015. Do we not also get that presumption of innocence?

We need to change how we conduct interrogations and need to change how criminal prosecutions are conducted. For example, the case of the Exonerated Five shows how race in America plays a major role in incarceration than actual data and real evidence. Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, were just teenagers when they were coerced into giving a false confession in 1989 despite the DNA evidence proving them innocent. The presumption of aggression and dangerousness of Black boys in the justice system is extremely harmful, and we need concrete legislation to eliminate this bias. One glance, and immediately we are burdened with the presumption of guilt and aggression, but what have we ever done but be human?

Georgina Oyugi and Betty Obungu

In 1972, when the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, the majority wrote that the death penalty was akin to, “self-help, vigilante justice, and lynch law” while also proclaiming that, “if any basis can be discerned for the selection of these few to be sentenced to die, it is the constitutionally impermissible basis of race.” A system made popular as a court-ordered alternative to lynchings cannot be reformed. It’s no mistake that, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, African-Americans make up 42% of people on death row, 32% who are later executed, yet only make up 13% of the United States’ population. We cannot continue on as a country who still bears the stains of the Jim Crow. We must end the death penalty.

We must not integrate the system but rebuild the system as a whole. The only way to truly get justice is to completely change the way our justice system works. We can’t combine hatred and justice.

 There are no two sides, we need justice alone. We would have a 30% less poverty rate if we didn’t incarcerate innocent people. The Innocence Project estimates between 2.3 percent and 4 percent of all US prisoners are innocent. With the US prison population numbering 2.4 million, that means as many as 120,000 innocent people could currently be in prison.

Today, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against formerly incarcerated individuals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against Black Americans.

In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander writes that, “In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal”.

Demonstrators lay down for a moment of silence for George Floyd during a march against police brutality in downtown Nashville. Sergio Martínez-BeltránWPLN News

So what can we do to fix the criminal justice system, help innocent people, and protect young children who look like us from police brutality? We can call for Congress to pass bills that will reform the system altogether, such as eliminating incarceration as a penalty for drug addiction and mental illness, while also strengthening drug treatment programs. We can pass legislation to reverse the devastating consequences of the 1994 crime bill, and redirect federal funds away from prison and police expansion and toward criminal justice solutions that actually work — such as the BREATHE Act, which calls for several grassroot changes to the system, including cuts to funding for both the prison system and police. 

By The All-Nite Images from NY, NY, USA (Black Lives Matter Black Friday) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It also holds politicians accountable for promises to the Black community, according to USA today. The Senate needs to pass H.R.1280 – George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, it “establishes a framework to prevent and remedy racial profiling by law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. It also limits the unnecessary use of force and restricts the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid holds” according to the bill summary. 

We need to also abolish cash bail. Across America, 3 out of every 5 people sitting in jail have not been convicted of a crime and can’t afford to pay for a bail. Cash bail criminalizes poverty and holds millions of innocent people pretrial every year. As with many criminal justice systems, this disproportionately affects low-income people, and people of color. According to the Brennan Center, Black and Latino men obtain higher bail amounts than white men for similar crimes by 35 and 19 percent, respectively. In Maryland, Black defendants were charged more than double the amount of bond premiums than all other races, put together, yet they only make up around 30% of Maryland’s population. States like Illinois, who ended the practice in February 2021 provide a model for other states across the nation, as well as a model at the federal level as well. It’s a system that treats rich and guilty defenders more favorably than if you’re poor and innocent.

Hundreds gathered in Revere for a protest march for George Floyd and others killed at the hands of law enforcement. ERIN CLARK/GLOBE STAFF, Boston Globe

We need to make sure that, in all 50 states, law enforcement must wear a body camera and have it on at all times. If passed and signed into law, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 would provide funds for local, state, and tribal governments to purchase body cameras in order to hold police officers accountable, increase transparency, as well as a means to decrease the use of excessive force by officers.

 We need sweeping federal legislation to protect all Americans across the country. It must be passed at the federal level so we can help everyone in this country and put an end to the present criminal justice prejudice. This would be the start of dismantling the systemic racism and white supremacist systems that this country was founded off of. We are calling on the House and Senate to pass these reforms, because everyday we ask ourselves, “Will I be next?”

Georgina Oyugi and Betty Obungu

Georgina Oyugi and Betty Obungu

Georgina Oyugi and Betty Obungu are 14-year-old high school students, cousins, and volunteers for Brand New Congress. Both are highly politically engaged, thoughtful young leaders who are excited to be working with BNC to elect a more representative Congress and fight for real change.

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Adrienne Bell

Adrienne Bell

Adrienne Bell is the Executive Director of Brand New Congress, a former Democratic Nominee for Congress, and a public school teacher in Texas.

The shocking statistics of police violence hide the real pain of our loss. Our sons, brothers, and fathers are being stolen from us.

We didn’t even have a chance to catch our breath after 10 people were murdered in a racist mass shooting in Buffalo, NY.

 

Now, as I write this, I am reeling from the news yesterday of 19 children and two teachers murdered in a Texas elementary school – something that is particularly hard as a elementary public school teacher in Texas.

 

As usual, the news reports amplified the shocking numbers. Nineteen babies were stolen from us yesterday.

 

But there’s another thing about that number, nineteen. Uvalde was also the nineteenth school shooting in 2022.

How are we supposed to continue as if everything is back to normal – when the problem is this IS normal?

This is a normal part of being a teacher and a student, preparing and participating in school emergency drills. Yet, we are never prepared when it becomes a reality. And for me, the threat of violence is a normal part of being a Black person in America.

This is a heavy day of sorrow, because today also marks two years since George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police.

George Floyd’s murder, caught on video for all the world to see, sparked a national uprising against police violence and in defense of the lives of Black people. 

We took to the streets. We cried out for justice. And we pleaded for you to remember that while George was one of over 1,000 people killed by law enforcement in 2020, he was so much more than a number.

A photo showing protesters from a March Black Lives Matter Rally, including Adrienne Bell, Executive Director of Brand New Congress

George Floyd was described as a gentle, kind, compassionate man who loved sports and mentored young people. He was a loving father of five and a grandfather of two. “Big Floyd,” as he was sometimes called, hated to see people struggle, and would often stop to help strangers on the street.

 

Daunte Wright was a new father. His friends called him gregarious and witty. He loved playing basketball and had dreams of an NBA career.

Alton Sterling was also a devoted father of five, widely regarded as a nice guy with a big personality who loved to help people. When he cooked, he always made enough for everybody.

 

Breonna Taylor was the glue that held her family together. She was an award-winning EMT with plans on becoming a nurse. Her boyfriend had bought an engagement ring and was planning to propose.

Elijah McClain was a massage therapist and a self-taught musician. He liked to play his guitar and his violin for animals in the shelter, believing the music helped soothe their anxiety. Friends and former colleagues described him as “the sweetest, purest person I have ever met” with “a child-like spirit.”

Tamir Rice was only a baby when we lost him. The youngest of four, he loved his brothers and sisters, and his smile lit up the room. He loved to play soccer, football, and basketball. He loved the arts and liked to draw. He was a mama’s boy, a jokester, and a budding athlete with a world of possibility before him. Next month should have been his 20th birthday.

But it was all stolen.

When I met George Floyd’s sister months after his murder, her grief was as fresh as the day it happened.



When you confront the full human toll of these murders, you know it’s not enough to list names and quote numbers.

We want to remember and celebrate the impact each left on the world around them, their hopes and joys, their dreams for the future.

A future that was stolen from them – from all of us – by police murder.

Because it’s easy to lose sight of that when we look at the statistics – even when the statistics are as shocking as these:

  • In 2019, the U.S. accounted for 13.2% of the global deaths attributed to police violence – yet we represented only 4% of the global population that year.
  • In all of 2021, there were only 15 days where American police officers did not kill someone. Over the past year, 1,041 people have been shot and killed by police, a staggering number that doesn’t even account for people like George Floyd, who was murdered without a gun.
  • Over 95% of people killed by police are men, over half of them are 20-40 years old.

 

And this violence, consistently and disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and Latino people. In fact, Black people are nearly 3 times more likely to be killed by American police than whites.

In nearly every year since independent watchdogs have started carefully tracking police murders of Black people, the deaths at the hands of police have increased over the year before.

How can this be? As the national conversation around Black Lives Matter has grown, more people than ever are calling for transparency, accountability, and justice. Recently, The Guardian reported that since George’s murder, there has been no improvement in the rate of police violence against Black and Brown communities. In fact, U.S. police are now killing three people every day.

How can it be that it’s still getting worse?

It’s important that you understand that none of this is new. This has been the reality of the Black experience on American soil since the first enslaved people were stolen from our ancestral lands and brought here – to this stolen land – to be forced to work.

When Michael Brown – a young man days away from starting college – was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri, the rest of the world learned what Black Americans have always known to be true: that our murders are under-reported and under-counted. That these deaths are invisible to law enforcement and to society at large.

The statistics are shocking. More than shocking, they are painful. The numbers themselves are violence. Each hashtag is a reminder of how fragile Black lives are.

These are not just hashtags and numbers. These are our sons. Our fathers. Our partners and friends. These are our brothers. Behind every statistic is a name, a life, a person who was loved and whose loss is deeply felt.

Each one represents a future that was stolen from us.

It’s been 55 years since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. cried out about the “fierce urgency of now.” Yet we are still fighting the same apathy and complacency.

 

Today we are still crying out with the fierce urgency of now – the voice of people still discriminated against for the color of our skin.

But we fight on in the hope that, in the end, our history, our struggle, our strength, our hope, and our victories, will be etched forever as American history.