In moving remarks, President Joe Biden, only the first sitting president to acknowledge the Tulsa Race Massacre of 100 years ago, tackled systemic, institutional racism and laid out a plan for economic justice including improving access to homeownership (the most significant factor in family wealth), investments in minority-owned small businesses and disadvantaged communities, and said he would act to preserve voting rights. He pointed to the most significant threat against domestic tranquility – White Supremacy and the rise of domestic terrorists – drawing a line from the Tulsa Race Massacre a century ago and today, and tackled the latest assault by right-wingers to whitewash history, rather than take responsibility.
“We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do: They come to terms with their dark sides. And we’re a great nation. The only way to build a common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild”
“Only with truth can come healing and justice and repair.”
Biden said, “And there’s greater recognition that, for too long, we’ve allowed a narrowed, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester — the view that America is a zero-sum game where there is only one winner. “If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine.” And maybe worst of all, “If I hold you down, I lift myself up,” instead of “If you do well, we all do well.” (Applause.) We see that in Greenwood.
“This story isn’t about the loss of life, but a loss of living, of wealth and prosperity and possibilities that still reverberates today.”
He announced significant policies aimed at redressing generational discrimination:
“Today, we’re announcing two expanded efforts targeted toward Black wealth creation that will also help the entire community. The first is: My administration has launched an aggressive effort to combat racial discrimination in housing. That includes everything from redlining to the cruel fact that a home owned by a Black family is too often appraised at a lower value than a similar home owned by a white family…
“I’m going to increase the share of the dollars the federal government spends to small, disadvantaged businesses, including Black and brown small businesses” from 10 percent to 15 percent.
Biden laid out a plan to use infrastructure investments to specifically improve lives in historically disadvantaged communities.
Then the President turned to voting rights, which Congressman john Lewis called “precious,” “almost sacred”… “The most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society”.
Biden declared, “This sacred right is under assault with an incredible intensity like I’ve never seen.. It’s simply un-American. It is not, however, sadly, unprecedented,” and vowed to ”today, let me be unequivocal: we’re going to be ramping up our efforts to overcome again.” He said june would be a month of action, called upon voting rights groups to engage in voter registration campaigns and designated Vice President Kamala Harris as the point-person in his administration to get Congress to pass critical voting rights legislation, including the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
But returning to the Tulsa Massacre of 100 years ago, he said that violence resonates again in the rise of White Supremacy, Neo-Nazism, the resurrection of the KKK – the rise of hate crimes and terror against blacks, Asian-Americans, Jews – as was on display in Charlottesville NC that inspired Biden to run for president to “reclaim the soul of the nation.”
“Hate is never defeated; it only hides,” Biden declared. “And given a little bit of oxygen — just a little bit oxygen — by its leaders, it comes out of there from under the rock like it was happening again, as if it never went away. We must not give hate a safe harbor.”
“Terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not ISIS, not al Qaeda — white supremacists” and promised to soon lay out “a broader strategy to counter domestic terrorism and the violence driven by the most heinous hate crimes and other forms of bigotry.”
Here is a highlighted transcript:
I just toured the Hall of Survivors here in Greenwood Cultural Center, and I want to thank the incredible staff for hosting us here. And — (applause) — I mean that sincerely. Thank you.
In the tour, I met Mother Randle, who’s only 56  years old. (Laughter.) God love her. And Mother Fletcher, who’s 67  years old. (Laughter.) And her brother — her brother, Van Ellis, who’s 100 years old. (Laughter.) And he looks like he’s 60. Thank you for spending so much time with me. I really mean it. It was a great honor. A genuine honor.
You are the three known remaining survivors of a story seen in the mirror dimly. But no longer. Now your story will be known in full view.
The events we speak of today took place 100 years ago. And yet, I’m the first President in 100 years ever to come to Tulsa — (applause) — I say that not as a compliment about me, but to think about it — a hundred years, and the first President to be here during that entire time, and in this place, in this ground, to acknowledge the truth of what took place here.
For much too long, the history of what took place here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness. But just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean that it did not take place. And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing. It erases nothing. Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous they can’t be buried, no matter how hard people try.
And so it is here. Only — only with truth can come healing and justice and repair. Only with truth, facing it. But that isn’t enough.
First, we have to see, hear, and give respect to Mother Randle, Mother Fletcher, and Mr. Van Ellis. (Applause.) To all those lost so many years ago, to all the descendants of those who suffered, to this community — that’s why we’re here: to shine a light, to make sure America knows the story in full.
May 1921: Formerly enslaved Black people and their descendants are here in Tulsa — a boom town of oil and opportunity in a new frontier.
On the north side, across the rail tracks that divided the city already segregated by law, they built something of their own, worthy — worthy of their talent and their ambition: Greenwood — a community, a way of life. Black doctors and lawyers, pastors, teachers; running hospitals, law practices, libraries, churches, schools.
Black veterans, like a man I had the privilege to giving a Command Coin to, who fought — volunteered and fought, and came home and still faced such prejudice. (Applause.) Veterans had been back a few years helping after winning the first World War, building a new life back home with pride and confidence, who were a mom-and — they were, at the time — mom-and-plack [sic] — mom-and-pop Black diners, grocery stores, barber shops, tailors — the things that make up a community.
At the Dreamland Theatre, a young Black couple, holding hands, falling in love. Friends gathered at music clubs and pool halls; at the Monroe family roller-skating rink. Visitors staying in hotels, like the Stradford.
All around, Black pride shared by the professional class and the working class who lived together, side by side, for blocks on end.
Mother Randle was just six years old — six years old — living with her grandmom. She said she was lucky to have a home and toys, and fortunate to live without fear.
Mother Fletcher was seven years old, the second of seven children. The youngest, being Mr. Van Ellis, was just a few months old. The children of former sharecroppers, when they went to bed at night in Greenwood, Mother Fletcher says they fell asleep rich in terms of the wealth — not real wealth, but a different wealth — a wealth in culture and community and heritage. (Applause.)
But one night — one night changed everything. Everything changed. While Greenwood was a community to itself, it was not separated from the outside.
It wasn’t everyone, but there was enough hate, resentment, and vengeance in the community. Enough people who believed that America does not belong to everyone and not everyone is created equal — Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, Black Americans. A belief enforced by law, by badge, by hood and by noose.
And it speaks to that — lit the fuse. It lit it by the spark that it provided — a fuse of fury — was an innocent interaction that turned into a terrible, terrible headline allegation of a Black male teenager attacking a white female teenager.
A white mob of 1,000 gathered around the courthouse where the Black teenager was being held, ready to do what still occurred: lynch that young man that night. But 75 Black men, including Black veterans, arrived to stand guard.
Words were exchanged. Then a scuffle. Then shots fired. Hell was unleashed. Literal hell was unleashed.
Through the night and into the morning, the mob terrorized Greenwood. Torches and guns. Shooting at will. A mob tied a Black man by the waist to the back of their truck with his head banging along the pavement as they drove off. A murdered Black family draped over the fence of their home outside. An elderly couple, knelt by their bed, praying to God with their heart and their soul, when they were shot in the back of their heads.
Private planes — private planes — dropping explosives — the first and only domestic aerial assault of its kind on an American city here in Tulsa.
Eight of Greenwood’s nearly two dozen churches burned, like Mt. Zion — across the street, at Vernon AME.
Mother Randle said it was like war. Mother Fletcher says, all these years later, she still sees Black bodies around.
The Greenwood newspaper publisher A.J. Smitherman penned a poem of what he heard and felt that night. And here’s the poem. He said, “Kill them, burn them, set the pace… teach them how to keep their place. Reign of murder, theft, and plunder was the order of the night.” That’s what he remembered in the poem that he wrote.
One hundred years ago at this hour, on this first day of June, smoke darkened the Tulsa sky, rising from 35 blocks of Greenwood that were left in ash and ember, razed and in rubble.
In less than 24 hours, 1,100 Black homes and businesses were lost. Insurance companies — they had insurance, many of them — rejected claims of damage. Ten thousand people were left destitute and homeless, placed in internment camps.
As I was told today, they were told, “Don’t you mention you were ever in a camp or we’ll come and get you.” That’s what survivors told me.
Yet no one — no arrests of the mob were made. None. No proper accounting of the dead. The death toll records by local officials said there were 36 people. That’s all. Thirty-six people.
But based on studies, records, and accounts, the likelihood — the likely number is much more, in the multiple of hundreds. Untold bodies dumped into mass graves. Families who, at the time, waited for hours and days to know the fate of their loved ones are now descendants who have gone 100 years without closure.
But, you know, as we speak, the process — the process of exhuming the unmarked graves has started. And at this moment, I’d like to pause for a moment of silence for the fathers, the mothers, the sisters, sons, and daughters, friends of God and Greenwood. They deserve dignity, and they deserve our respect. May their souls rest in peace.
[Pause for a moment of silence.]
My fellow Americans, this was not a riot. This was a massacre — (applause) — among the worst in our history, but not the only one. And for too long, forgotten by our history.
As soon as it happened, there was a clear effort to erase it from our memory — our collective memories — from the news and everyday conversations. For a long time, schools in Tulsa didn’t even teach it, let alone schools elsewhere.
And most people didn’t realize that, a century ago, a second Ku Klux Klan had been founded — the second Ku Klux Klan had been founded.
A friend of mine, Jon Meacham — I had written — when I said I was running to restore the soul of America, he wrote a book called “The Soul of America” — not because of what I said. And there’s a picture about page 160 in his book, showing over 30,000 Ku Klux Klan members in full regalia, Reverend — pointed hats, the robes — marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Jesse, you know all about this. Washin- — Washington, D.C.
If my memory is correct, there were 37 members of the House of Representatives who were open members of the Klan. There were five, if I’m not mistaken — it could have been seven; I think it was five — members of the United States Senate — open members of the Klan. Multiple governors who were open members of the Klan.
Most people didn’t realize that, a century ago, the Klan was founded just six years before the horrific destruction here in Tulsa. And one of the reasons why it was founded was because of guys like me, who were Catholic. It wasn’t about African Americans, then; it was about making sure that all those Polish and Irish and Italian and Eastern European Catholics who came to the United States after World War One would not pollute Christianity.
The flames from those burning crosses torched every region — region of the country. Millions of white Americans belonged to the Klan, and they weren’t even embarrassed by it; they were proud of it.
And that hate became embedded systematically and systemically in our laws and our culture. We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened or that it doesn’t impact us today, because it does still impact us today.
We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. (Applause.) We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do: They come to terms with their dark sides. And we’re a great nation.
The only way to build a common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild. I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence, wounds deepen. (Applause.) And only — as painful as it is, only in remembrance do wounds heal. We just have to choose to remember.
We memorialize what happened here in Tulsa so it can be –so it can’t be erased. We know here, in this hallowed place, we simply can’t bury pain and trauma forever.
And at some point, there will be a reckoning, an inflection point, like we’re facing right now as a nation.
What many people hadn’t seen before or ha- — or simply refused to see cannot be ignored any longer. You see it in so many places.
And there’s greater recognition that, for too long, we’ve allowed a narrowed, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester — the view that America is a zero-sum game where there is only one winner. “If you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If you get a job, I lose mine.” And maybe worst of all, “If I hold you down, I lift myself up,” instead of “If you do well, we all do well.” (Applause.) We see that in Greenwood.
This story isn’t about the loss of life, but a loss of living, of wealth and prosterity [prosperity] and possibilities that still reverberates today.
Mother Fletcher talks about how she was only able to attend school until the fourth grade and eventually found work in the shipyards, as a domestic worker.
Mr. Van Ellis has shared how, even after enlisting and serving in World War Two, he still came home to struggle with a segregated America.
Imagine all those hotels and dinners [diners] and mom-and-pop shops that could been — have been passed down this past hundred years. Imagine what could have been done for Black families in Greenwood: financial security and generational wealth.
If you come from backgrounds like my — my family — a working-class, middle-class family — the only way we were ever able to generate any wealth was in equity in our homes. Imagine what they contributed then and what they could’ve contributed all these years. Imagine a thriving Greenwood in North Tulsa for the last hundred years, what that would’ve meant for all of Tulsa, including the white community.
While the people of Greenwood rebuilt again in the years after the massacre, it didn’t last. Eventually neighborhoods were redlined on maps, locking Black Tulsa out of homeownerships. (Applause.) A highway was built right through the heart of the community. Lisa, I was talking about our west side — what 95 did to it after we were occupied by the military, after Dr. King was murdered. The community — cutting off Black families and businesses from jobs and opportunity. Chronic underinvestment from state and federal governments denied Greenwood even just a chance at rebuilding. (Applause.)
We must find the courage to change the things we know we can change. That’s what Vice President Harris and I are focused on, along with our entire administration, including our Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Marcia Fudge, who is here today. (Applause.)
Because today, we’re announcing two expanded efforts targeted toward Black wealth creation that will also help the entire community. The first is: My administration has launched an aggressive effort to combat racial discrimination in housing. That includes everything from redlining to the cruel fact that a home owned by a Black family is too often appraised at a lower value than a similar home owned by a white family. (Applause.)
And I might add — and I need help if you have an answer to this; I can’t figure this one out, Congressman Horsford. But if you live in a Black community and there’s another one on the other side of the highway — it’s a white community; it’s the — built by the same builder, and you have a better driving record than they guy with the same car in the white community, you’re — can pay more for your auto insurance.
Shockingly, the percentage of Black American homeownership is lower today in America than when the Fair Housing Act was passed more than 50 years ago. Lower today. That’s wrong. And we’re committing to changing that.
Just imagine if instead of denying millions of Americans the ability to own their own home and build generational wealth, we made it possible for them to buy a home and build equity into that — into that home and provide for their families.
Second, small businesses are the engines of our economy and the glue of our communities. As President, my administration oversees hundreds of billions of dollars in federal contracts for everything from refurbishing decks of aircraft carriers, to installing railings in federal buildings, to professional services.
We have a thing called — I won’t go into it all because there’s not enough time now. But I’m determined to use every taxpayer’s dollar that is assigned to me to spend, going to American companies and American workers to build American products. And as part of that, I’m going to increase the share of the dollars the federal government spends to small, disadvantaged businesses, including Black and brown small businesses.
Right now, it calls for 10 percent; I’m going to move that to 15 percent of every dollar spent will be spent (inaudible). (Applause.) I have the authority to do that.
Just imagine if, instead of denying millions of entrepreneurs the ability to access capital and contracting, we made it possible to take their dreams to the marketplace to create jobs and invest in our communities.
That — the data shows young Black entrepreneurs are just as capable of succeeding, given the chance, as white entrepreneurs are. But they don’t have lawyers. They don’t have — they — they don’t have accountants, but they have great ideas.
Does anyone doubt this whole nation would be better off from the investments those people make? And I promise you, that’s why I set up the — a national Small Business Administration that’s much broader. Because they’re going to get those loans.
Instead of consigning millions of American children to under-resourced schools, let’s give each and every child, three and four years old, access to school — not daycare, school. (Applause.)
In the last 10 years, studies have been done by all the great universities. It shows that, if increased by 56 percent, the possibility of a child — no matter what background they come from; no matter what — if they start school at three years old, they have a 56 percent chance of going all through all 12 years without any trouble and being able to do well, and a chance to learn and grow and thrive in a school and throughout their lives.
And let’s unlock more than — an incredible creativity and innovation that will come from the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. (Applause.) I have a $5 billion program giving them the resources to invest in research centers and laboratories and high-demand fields to compete for the good-paying jobs in industries like — of the future, like cybersecurity.
The reason why they don’t — their — their students are equally able to learn as well, and get the good-paying job that start at 90- and 100,000 bucks. But they don’t have — they don’t have the back — they don’t have the money to provide and build those laboratories. So, guess what? They’re going to get the money to build those laboratories. (Applause.)
So, instead of just talking about infrastructure, let’s get about the business of actually rebuilding roads and highways, filling the sidewalks and cracks, installing streetlights and high-speed Internet, creating space — space to live and work and play safely.
Let’s ensure access to healthcare, clean water, clean air, nearby grocery stores — stock the fresh vegetables and food that — (applause) — in fact, deal with — I mean, these are all things we can do.
Does anyone doubt this whole nation would be better off with these investments? The rich will be just as well off. The middle class will do better, and everybody will do better. It’s about good-paying jobs, financial stability, and being able to build some generational wealth. It’s about economic growth for our country and outcompeting the rest of the world, which is now outcompeting us.
But just as fundamental as any of these investments I’ve discussed — this may be the most fundamental: the right to vote. (Applause.) The right to vote. (Applause.)
A lot of the members of the Black Caucus knew John Lewis better than I did, but I knew him. On his deathbed, like many, I called John, to speak to him. But all John wanted to do was talk about how I was doing. He died, I think, about 25 hours later.
But you know what John said? He called the right to vote “precious,” “almost sacred.” He said, “The most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society”.
This sacred right is under assault with an incredible intensity like I’ve never seen — even though I got started as a public defender and a civil rights lawyer — with an intensity and an aggressiveness that we have not seen in a long, long time.
It’s simply un-American. It is not, however, sadly, unprecedented. The creed “We Shall Overcome” is a longtime mainstay of the Civil Rights Movement, as Jesse Jackson can tell you better than anybody.
The obstacle to progress that have to be overcome are a constant challenge. We saw it in the ‘60s, but with the current assault, it’s not just an echo of a distant history.
In 2020, we faced a tireless assault on the right to vote: restrictive laws, lawsuits, threats of intimidation, voter purges, and more. We resolved to overcome it all, and we did. More Americans voted in the last election than any — in the midst of a pandemic — than any election in American history. (Applause.)
You got voters registered. You got voters to the polls. The rule of law held. Democracy prevailed. We overcame.
But today, let me be unequivocal: I’ve been engaged in this work my whole career, and we’re going to be ramping up our efforts to overcome again.
I will have more to say about this at a later date — the truly unprecedented assault on our democracy, an effort to replace nonpartisan election administrators and to intimidate those charged with tallying and reporting the election results.
But today, as for the act of voting itself, I urge voting rights groups in this country to begin to redouble their efforts now to register and educate voters. (Applause.)
June should be a month of action on Capitol Hill. I hear all the folks on TV saying, “Why doesn’t Biden get this done?” Well, because Biden only has a majority of, effectively, four votes in the House and a tie in the Senate, with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.
But we’re not giving up. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed For the People Act to protect our democracy. The Senate will take it up later this month, and I’m going to fight like heck with every tool at my disposal for its passage.
The House is also working on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which is — which is critical — (applause) — to providing new legal tools to combat the new assault on the right to vote.
To signify the importance of our efforts, today I’masking Vice President Harris to help these efforts and lead them, among her many other responsibilities.
With her leadership and your support, we’re going to overcome again, I promise you. But it’s going to take a hell of a lot of work. (Applause.)
And finally, we have to — and finally, we must address what remains the stain on the soul of America. What happened in Greenwood was an act of hate and domestic terrorism with a through line that exists today still.
Just close your eyes and remember what you saw in Charlottesville four years ago on television. Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK coming out of those fields at night in Virginia with lighted torches — the veins bulging on their — as they were screaming. Remember? Just close your eyes and picture what it was.
Well, Mother Fletcher said when she saw the insurrection at the Capitol on January the 9th [6th], it broke her heart — a mob of violent white extremists — thugs. Said it reminded her what happened here in Greenwood 100 years ago.
Look around at the various hate crimes against Asian Americans and Jewish Americans. Hate that never goes away. Hate only hides.
Jesse, I think I mentioned this to you. I thought, after you guys pushed through, with Dr. King, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act — I thought we moved. But what I didn’t realize — I thought we had made enormous progress, and I was so proud to be a little part of it.
But you know what, Rev? I didn’t realize hate is never defeated; it only hides. It hides. And given a little bit of oxygen — just a little bit oxygen — by its leaders, it comes out of there from under the rock like it was happening again, as if it never went away.
And so, folks, we can’t — we must not give hate a safe harbor.
As I said in my address to the joint session of Congress: According to the intelligence community, terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today. Not ISIS, not al Qaeda — white supremacists. (Applause.) That’s not me; that’s the intelligence community under both Trump and under my administration.
Two weeks ago, I signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which the House had passed and the Senate. My administration will soon lay out our broader strategy to counter domestic terrorism and the violence driven by the most heinous hate crimes and other forms of bigotry.
But I’m going to close where I started. To Mother Randle, Mother Fletcher, Mr. Van Ellis, to the descendants, and to all survivors: Thank you. Thank you for giving me the honor of being able to spend some time with you earlier today. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your commitment. And thank your children, and your grandchildren, and your unc- — and your nieces and your nephews.
To see and learn from you is a gift — a genuine gift. Dr. John Hope Franklin, one of America’s greatest historians — Tulsa’s proud son, whose father was a Greenwood survivor — said, and I quote, “Whatever you do, it must be done in the spirit of goodwill and mutual respect and even love. How else can we overcome the past and be worthy of our forebearers and face the future with confidence and with hope?”
On this sacred and solemn day, may we find that distinctly Greenwood spirit that defines the American spirit — the spirit that gives me so much confidence and hope for the future; that helps us see, face to face; a spirit that helps us know fully who we are and who we can be as a people and as a nation.
I’ve never been more optimistic about the future than I am today. I mean that. And the reason is because of this new generation of young people. They’re the best educated, they’re the least prejudiced, the most open generation in American history.
And although I have no scientific basis of what I’m about to say, but those of you who are over 50 — how often did you ever see — how often did you ever see advertisements on television with Black and white couples? Not a joke.
I challenge you — find today, when you turn on the stations — sit on one station for two hours. And I don’t know how many commercials you’ll see — eight to five — two to three out of five have mixed-race couples in them. That’s not by accident. They’re selling soap, man. (Laughter.) Not a joke.
Remember ol’ Pat Caddell? He used to say, “You want to know what’s happening in American culture? Watch advertising, because they want to sell what they have.”
We have hope in folks like you, honey. I really mean it. We have hope. But we’ve got to give them support. We have got to give them the backbone to do what we know has to be done. Because I doubt whether any of you would be here if you didn’t care deeply about this. You sure in the devil didn’t come to hear me speak. (Laughter.)
But I really mean it. I really mean it. Let’s not give up, man. Let’s not give up.
As the old saying goes, “Hope springs eternal.” I know we’ve talked a lot about famous people, but I’m — my colleagues in the Senate used to kid me because I was always quoting Irish poets. They think I did it because I’m Irish. They think I did it because we Irish — we have a little chip on our shoulder. A little bit, sometimes.
That’s not why I did it; I did it because they’re the best poets in the world. (Laughter.) You can smile, it’s okay. It’s true.
There was a famous poet who wrote a poem called “The Cure at Troy” — Seamus Heaney. And there is a stanza in it that I think is the definition of what I think should be our call today for young people.
It said, “History teaches us not to hope on this side of the grave, but then, once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice rises up, and hope and history rhyme.”
President Barack Obama issued this tribute to Congressman John Lewis, a hero to so many in the cause of freedom and equality, who passed away at the age of 80:
America is a constant work in progress. What gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further – to speak out for what’s right, to challenge an unjust status quo, and to imagine a better world.
John Lewis – one of the original Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of Georgia for 33 years – not only assumed that responsibility, he made it his life’s work. He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.
Considering his enormous impact on the history of this country, what always struck those who met John was his gentleness and humility. Born into modest means in the heart of the Jim Crow South, he understood that he was just one of a long line of heroes in the struggle for racial justice. Early on, he embraced the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as the means to bring about real change in this country, understanding that such tactics had the power not only to change laws, but to change hearts and minds as well.
In so many ways, John’s life was exceptional. But he never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country might do. He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey towards a more perfect union.
I first met John when I was in law school, and I told him then that he was one of my heroes. Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders. When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made. And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family. We will miss him dearly.
It’s fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum was at a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists who were helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Afterwards, I spoke to him privately, and he could not have been prouder of their efforts – of a new generation standing up for freedom and equality, a new generation intent on voting and protecting the right to vote, a new generation running for political office. I told him that all those young people – of every race, from every background and gender and sexual orientation – they were his children. They had learned from his example, even if they didn’t know it. They had understood through him what American citizenship requires, even if they had heard of his courage only through history books.
Not many of us get to live to see our own legacy play out in such a meaningful, remarkable way. John Lewis did. And thanks to him, we now all have our marching orders – to keep believing in the possibility of remaking this country we love until it lives up to its full promise.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed an Executive Order — the ‘New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative’ — requiring local police agencies, including the NYPD, to develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including, but not limited to use of force.
During the same event, attended by Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Valerie Bell, mother of Sean Bell; NAACP President Hazel Dukes; Reverend Al Sharpton , New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Cuomo also signed the ‘Say Their Name’ Reform Agenda package following the killing of George Floyd and an ongoing pattern of police brutality against minority communities across the nation. These landmark policing reforms will help reduce inequality in policing and reimagine the state’s criminal justice system. The reforms include:
Allowing for transparency of prior disciplinary records of law enforcement officers by repealing 50-a of the civil rights law;
Banning chokeholds by law enforcement officers;
Prohibiting false race-based 911 reports; and
Designating the Attorney General as an independent prosecutor for matters relating to the civilian deaths.
“The murder of George Floyd was just the tipping point of the systemic injustice and discrimination that has been going on in our nation for decades, if not centuries,” Governor Cuomo said.”These are issues that the country has been talking about for a long time, and these nation-leading reforms will make long overdue changes to our policing and criminal justice systems while helping to restore community confidence in law enforcement.
Under Cuomo’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative executive order, police forces throughout the state, in cities, towns and counties- some 500 of them – must adopt a plan by April 1, 2021 to be eligible for future state funding and certify that they have:
Engaged stakeholders in a public and open process on policing strategies and tools;
Presented a plan, by chief executive and head of the local police force, to the public for comment;
After consideration of any comments, presented such plan to the local legislative body (council or legislature as appropriate) which has approved such plan (by either local law or resolution); and
If such local government does not certify the plan, the police force may not be eligible to receive future state funding.
“The protests taking place throughout the nation and in communities across New York in response to the murder of George Floyd illustrate the loss of community confidence in our local police agencies — a reality that has been fueled by our country’s history of police-involved deaths of black and brown people,” Governor Cuomo said. “Our law enforcement officers are essential to ensuring public safety — they literally put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect us. This emergency regulation will help rebuild that confidence and restore trust between police and the communities they serve by requiring localities to develop a new plan for policing in the community based on fact-finding and meaningful community input.”
Immediately following the death of George Floyd, Governor Cuomo laid out a series of reform policy items – called the “Say Their Name” agenda – including allowing for transparency of prior disciplinary records of law enforcement officers by reforming 50-a of the civil rights law; banning chokeholds by law enforcement officers; prohibiting false race-based 911 reports and making them a crime; and designating the Attorney General as an independent prosecutor for matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement.
This builds on prior executive actions the Governor has taken including appointing the Attorney General as a special prosecutor in matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement.
“The horrific murder of George Floyd, the most recent in a long list of innocent people like Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Tony McDade, and so many more, has led to a rightful outpouring of grief and anger,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, who recalled when her own son, at 18 years old, was taken into custody and left with a broken nose. “Black New Yorkers, like all residents of this state, deserve to know that their rights, and lives, are valued and protected by our justice system. The legislation that will be signed today will help stop bad actors and send a clear message that brutality, racism, and unjustified killings will not be tolerated.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said,”The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham and so many others shake us to the core. This week, my colleagues and I in the Assembly Majority answered the call of New Yorkers by passing historic reforms to our law enforcement system. These reforms have been championed by our members for years, and I want to thank my colleagues for their tireless commitment to seeing them through to the finish line. I would also like to thank the families of the victims and the passionate advocates who never tired in this fight for justice. They have courageously channeled their grief into a positive force for change and inspired us to deliver meaningful reforms here in New York.”
Cuomo stressed that actions need to be taken at the federal level to create national standards that root out systemic racism in criminal justice and law enforcement, but that New York State, as the “progressive capital” of the nation, would serve as a model for other states and ultimately the federal government.
“Criminal justice reform should be done on a national level,” he said. “And the House has been very aggressive on reform, the Congress, and I applaud them for it. But New York State is the progressive capital. We never sit back and say just what the nation should do, we show the nation what it should do. We lead by example and we lead by getting it done. We are a state of action and that’s us at our best…”
“There is no quick fix to this,” Cuomo said. “There is no, ’”Well, stop tear gas. Well, change the uniforms.’ That’s not what this is about, my friends. And it would be a mistake if we went down that path. This is systemic reform of police departments. This is sitting down and taking a look at exactly what they do and have been doing and looking at it through a new lens of reform and reinvention, because this has been 40, 50 years in the making. Providing police with military equipment, increasing the number of police, it goes back to the ’90s in the crime bills. Looking at the population explosion in our prisons, this was a long time in coming, and this is not about a press release that’s going to solve it. The way we really solve this is we say to every police agency in this state, I believe it should happen in the nation, sit down at the table with the local community, address these issues, get to the root of these issues, get a plan, pass that plan by your local government, and if you don’t, you’re not going to get any additional state funds, period. We’re not going to fund police agencies in this state that do not look at what has been happening, come to terms with it and reform themselves. We’re not going to be as a state government subsidizing improper police tactics, we’re not doing it. And this is how we’re going to do it.”
Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins spoke personally: “But every parent, every mother who looks like me understood that scary notion with our kids, with our husbands, with our brothers. I got that call when my son, my youngest son was only 18 years old and he was quote unquote on the wrong side of the town, he was stopped, he was frisked. The next thing I know after we’re out of the police station, we’re in the emergency room because he has a fractured nose. Thank god I was able to bring him home. I ache for Gwen, Valerie. I understood that.”
She noted that her brother, Bobby, a Marine vet, a Vietnam War vet, served as a transit police officer for six years, before he left “because he was convinced that the department, that the system was designed so that every young black man would have a record. He knew. He was a good cop, he worked with good cops, but he couldn’t change that. And you knew the system couldn’t change itself.
“And so here we are. We know this isn’t a cure, as the governor said. We know that this is the beginning, but it’s a move to bring justice to a system that has long been unjust. And, again, I thank you for being a partner for making sure that we take to heart this moment that has taken too long to come to. And I thank all of the people in the streets and the leadership of the families to make this happen. So, thank you, Governor.”
Assembly Speaker Heastie reflected, “There are still many other issues of systemic injustice and systemic racism that people of color have to deal with. It’s education and health disparities and these are all things that we have to continue as Government to be a part of. Government is supposed to be problem solvers. When society can’t fix things that’s what government is supposed to come in and chart that costs so this is just a very it’s an emotional day.”
Many reflected on the long list of victims over the past 40-50 years, and sporadic flare-ups of outrage but nothing concrete to change the system. What was different now?
Cuomo opined, “But I think it wasn’t just about Mr. Floyd’s death. I think it was the cumulative impact and I think all the names on that list did not die in vain. I think it took that repeated articulation to get the country to this point. Reverend Sharpton— on every one of those situations— was out there making this point all over the country. All over the country. And finally, finally, the country heard! But the reason we’re here today, make no mistake, is because Rev. Sharpton and good people across the country, were out there making the point every time over and over and over again.
“So, Eric Garner did not die in vain. Shawn Bell did not die in vain. It took— it took a number of lives, unfortunately. it took a number of injustices, unfortunately. But each one was a part in getting to today and it was Rev. Sharpton standing up and making sure the people of this nation heard every time, every injustice happened. And that— that Reverend— is a special ability, a special contribution, and it happened year after year after year and we all respect your effort. We thank you for what you’ve done. We thank you for your voice, which the nation has heard. This state has heard. And not only did we hear you— we’re going to make a difference and this state is going to make a difference and I believe it’s going to be a difference that will resonate across the nation. Because what we’re doing here, making every police agency come to the table with the community— that should be done in every police agency in this country. Together we’ll make it happen. Reverend Sharpton.”
Sharpton replied, ”let us be very clear. There is no governor in this country that has said what he said this morning. He and I are debating sometimes, but he has, in many ways, done things that even I did not expect. To say that every mayor must come up with a plan along these areas or they will withhold state money, is a model for where we ought to be dealing with 21st century civil rights in this country. Make no mistake: this is a new level that all other 49 governors ought to look at, because to say, “I want to see mayors deal with this” and “I want to see city councils deal with this,” is one thing. But to say, “we’re going to hold funds— means that he means it.”
He noted that 20 years ago, when Sharpton organized a March on Washington, Cuomo, then Secretary of Housing & Urban Development, was the only member of Clinton’s cabinet to attend.
“Andrew Cuomo has raised the bar, and I hope every governor in this country will be asked today whether or not they’re going to do what he just did. Somebody has to raise the bar. Then we can say to the Floyd family and others that you really have seen a new day, and we’ve turned a new way in this country. And I think that he has done that and Andrew Cuomo knows that when I don’t think he did whatever, I will tell him. He has gone beyond even my expectations. So enjoy these few minutes. But I think this is a great day.”
Here are more details of the legislation Cuomo signed:
Repealing 50-a (S.8496/A.10611)
Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law creates a special right of privacy for the personnel records of police officers, correction officers, and firefighters and paramedics employed by the State or political subdivisions. The current law prevents access to both records of the disciplinary proceedings themselves and the recommendations or outcomes of those proceedings, leading to records of complaints or findings of law enforcement misconduct that did not result in criminal charges against an officer almost entirely inaccessible to the public.
Repealing 50-a will allow for the disclosure of law enforcement disciplinary records, increasing transparency and helping the public regain trust that law enforcement officers and agencies may be held accountable for misconduct.
Banning Chokeholds (S.6670-B/A.6144)
In 1993, the New York City Police Department completely banned its officers from using chokeholds, but the ban has not prevented police officers from using this method to restrain individuals whom they are trying to arrest and the continued use of chokeholds has resulted in too many deaths. This new law creates criminal penalties when a police officer or peace officer uses a chokehold or similar restraint and causes serious physical injury or death.
Senator Brian Benjamin said, “Criminalizing the use of the chokehold by police or peace officers punishable up to 15 years in prison is an important step that will bringing sorely needed police accountability reform to New York State. It is time that we make it abundantly clear that no one is above the law. This is the first law that I am aware of that establishes an enhanced offense specifically on police officers and that is primarily because those who we hire to protect and serve must be held to a higher standard. I would like to thank the Senate and Assembly for passing the ‘Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act,’ and Governor Cuomo for signing this legislation that will help to save the lives of unarmed black men and women who encounter the police and hopefully begin the process of establishing trust and reducing tensions with law enforcement and communities of color.”
Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley said, “George Floyd and Eric Garner yelled out the same words as they were brutally killed by police officers. We need real change to protect black Americans, and part of that is ensuring there are consequences for misconduct on the part of police officers. This legislation is one of many steps in that direction. I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this bill into law and hope to continue working with his administration to make our state a fairer and more equal place to call home.”
Prohibiting Race-Based 911 Calls (S.8492/A.1531)
Recent years have shown a number of frivolous and false calls to 911 based on the callers’ personal discomfort with other people and not for any particular threat. This new law makes it a civil rights violation to call 911 to report a non-emergency incident involving a member of a protected class without reason to suspect a crime or an imminent threat.
Senator Kevin Parker said, “Social media is rampant with videos of people weaponizing the 911 emergency system against African-Americans hoping to see them falsely arrested or worse. This legislation is by no means a solution to the systemic injustices and prejudices that fuel these types of calls to the police. However, this law gives victims of this despicable behavior the beginnings of some recourse. I am glad that it was passed, together with other important police reform bills, and I thank Governor Cuomo for signing it into law.”
Appointing Attorney General as Independent Prosecutor for Police Involved Deaths (S.2574-C/A.1601)
This new law establishes an Office of Special Investigation within the Office of the Attorney General to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute cases where the death of a person follows an encounter with a law enforcement officer. The law also requires the new Office of Special Investigation to produce a report explaining the reasons for its decision regardless of whether it chooses to pursue charges. This will help improve public confidence in the criminal justice system by removing a potential conflict of interest in these types of investigations. This law builds on the Governor’s Executive Order No. 147 from 2015 which established the Attorney General as an independent prosecutor in instances of police-involved deaths.
Assembly Member Nick Perry said, “Over twenty years since police unloaded 41 shots killing Amadou Diallo, nearly six years after the merciless choking of Eric Garner, it took the videos of the heartrending death of George Floyd to finally help us break through the blue wall of silence and resistance to the public cry for criminal justice reform and changes in the prosecution of cases involving death at the hands of the police, who are supposed to protect us. We know that this new law will not end our quest for an assurance for fairness in the process for prosecuting crimes by bad police officers, but it is a big step in the right direction. Millions of New Yorkers and I are delighted that the Governor has signed this bill into law.”
Amid national protests over police brutality and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and Donald Trump calling out the military against peaceful protesters outside the White House, VP Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, declares, “The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism. To deal with the growing economic inequality in our nation. And to deal with the denial of the promise of this nation — to so many.“
“We are a nation in pain,” Biden declared. “but we must not allow this pain to destroy us. We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. We are a nation exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us.
“As President, it is my commitment to all of you to lead on these issues — to listen. Because I truly believe in my heart of hearts, that we can overcome. And when we stand together, finally, as One America, we will rise stronger than before.”
Here is a transcript of Vice President Joe Biden’s speech delivered from the Mayor’s Reception Room in Philadelphia City Hall in front of an audience that included Mayor Jim Kenney, Congressman Brendan Boyle, and state and local elected officials.:
“I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.”
George Floyd’s last words. But they didn’t die with him. They’re still being heard. They’re echoing across this nation.
They speak to a nation where too often just the color of your skin puts your life at risk.
They speak to a nation where more than 100,000 people have lost their lives to a virus – and 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment – with a disproportionate number of these deaths and job losses concentrated in black and brown communities.
And they speak to a nation where every day millions of people – not at the moment of losing their life – but in the course of living their life – are saying to themselves, “I can’t breathe.”
It’s a wake-up call for our nation. For all of us.
And I mean all of us. It’s not the first time we’ve heard these words – they’re the same words we heard from Eric Garner when his life was taken six years ago.
But it’s time to listen to these words. Understand them. And respond to them – with real action.
The country is crying out for leadership. Leadership that can unite us. Leadership that can bring us together. Leadership that can recognize the pain and deep grief of communities that have had a knee on their neck for too long.
But there is no place for violence.
No place for looting or destroying property or burning churches, or destroying businesses — many of them built by people of color who for the first time were beginning to realize their dreams and build wealth for their families.
Nor is it acceptable for our police — sworn to protect and serve all people — to escalate tensions or resort to excessive violence.
We need to distinguish between legitimate peaceful protest — and opportunistic violent destruction.
And we must be vigilant about the violence that’s being done by the incumbent president to our democracy and to the pursuit of justice.
When peaceful protestors are dispersed by the order of the President from the doorstep of the people’s house, the White House — using tear gas and flash grenades — in order to stage a photo op at a noble church, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle.
More interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people in his care.
For that’s what the presidency is: a duty of care — to all of us, not just our voters, not just our donors, but all of us.
The President held up a bible at St. John’s church yesterday.
If he opened it instead of brandishing it, he could have learned something: That we are all called to love one another as we love ourselves.
That’s hard work. But it’s the work of America.
Donald Trump isn’t interested in doing that work.
Instead he’s preening and sweeping away all the guardrails that have long protected our democracy.
Guardrails that have helped make possible this nation’s path to a more perfect union.
A union that constantly requires reform and rededication – and yes the protests from voices of those mistreated, ignored, left out and left behind.
But it’s a union worth fighting for and that’s why I’m running for President.
In addition to the Bible, he might also want to open the U.S. Constitution.
If he did, he’d find the First Amendment. It protects “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Mr. President: That is America.
Not horses rising up on their hind legs to push back a peaceful protest. Not using the American military to move against the American people. This nation is a nation of values. Our freedom to speak is the cherished knowledge that lives inside every American.
We will not allow any President to quiet our voice.
We won’t let those who see this as an opportunity to sow chaos throw up a smokescreen to distract us from the very real and legitimate grievances at the heart of these protests.
And we can’t leave this moment thinking we can once again turn away and do nothing. We can’t.
The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism. To deal with the growing economic inequality in our nation. And to deal with the denial of the promise of this nation — to so many.
I’ve said from the outset of this election that we are in a battle for the soul of this nation. Who we are. What we believe. And maybe most important — who we want to be.
It’s all at stake. That is truer today than ever. And it’s in this urgency we can find the path forward.
The history of this nation teaches us that it’s in some of our darkest moments of despair that we’ve made some of our greatest progress.
The 13th and 14th and 15th Amendments followed the Civil War. The greatest economy in the history of the world grew out of the Great Depression. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 came in the tracks of Bull Connor’s vicious dogs.
To paraphrase Reverend Barber — it’s in the mourning we find hope.
It will take more than talk. We’ve had talk before. We’ve had protests before.
Let us vow to make this, at last, an era of action to reverse systemic racism with long overdue and concrete changes.
That action will not be completed in the first 100 days of my Presidency — or even an entire term.
It is the work of a generation.
But if this agenda will take time to complete, it should not wait for the first 100 days of my Presidency to get started.
A down payment on what is long overdue should come now. Immediately.
I call on Congress to act this month on measures that would be a first step in this direction. Starting with real police reform.
Congressman Jeffries has a bill to outlaw choke holds. Congress should put it on President Trump’s desk in the next few days.
There are other measures: to stop transferring weapons of war to police forces, to improve oversight and accountability, to create a model use of force standard — that also should be made law this month.
No more excuses. No more delays.
If the Senate has time to confirm Trump’s unqualified judicial nominees who will run roughshod over our Constitution, it has time to pass legislation that will give true meaning to our Constitution’s promise of “equal protection of the laws.”
Looking ahead, in the first 100 days of my presidency, I have committed to creating a national police oversight commission.
I’ve long believed we need real community policing.
And we need each and every police department in the country to undertake a comprehensive review of their hiring, their training, and their de-escalation practices.
And the federal government should give them the tools and resources they need to implement reforms.
Most cops meet the highest standards of their profession. All the more reason that bad cops should be dealt with severely and swiftly. We all need to take a hard look at the culture that allows for these senseless tragedies to keep happening.
And we need to learn from the cities and precincts that are getting it right.
We know, though, that to have true justice in America, we need economic justice, too.
Here, too, there is much to be done.
As an immediate step, Congress should act to rectify racial inequities in the allocation of COVID-19 recovery funds.
I will be setting forth more of my agenda on economic justice and opportunity in the weeks and months ahead.
But it begins with health care. It should be a right not a privilege. The quickest route to universal coverage in this country is to expand Obamacare.
We could do it. We should do it.
But this president — even now — in the midst of a public health crisis with massive unemployment wants to destroy it.
He doesn’t care how many millions of Americans will be hurt— because he is consumed with his blinding ego when it comes to President Obama.
The President should withdraw his lawsuit to strike down Obamacare, and the Congress should prepare to act on my proposal to expand Obamacare to millions more.
These last few months we have seen America’s true heroes. The health care workers, the nurses, delivery truck drivers, grocery store workers.
We have a new phrase for them: Essential workers.
But we need to do more than praise them. We need to pay them.
Because if it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now. This country wasn’t built by Wall Street bankers and CEOs. It was built by America’s great middle class — by our essential workers.
I know there is enormous fear and uncertainty and anger in the country. I understand.
And I know so many Americans are suffering. Suffering the loss of a loved one. Suffering economic hardships. Suffering under the weight of generation after generation after generation of hurt inflicted on people of color — and on black and Native communities in particular.
I know what it means to grieve. My losses are not the same as the losses felt by so many. But I know what it is to feel like you cannot go on.
I know what it means to have a black hole of grief sucking at your chest.
Just a few days ago marked the fifth anniversary of my son Beau’s passing from cancer. There are still moments when the pain is so great it feels no different from the day he died. But I also know that the best way to bear loss and pain is to turn all that anger and anguish to purpose.
And, Americans know what our purpose is as a nation. It has guided us from the very beginning.
It’s been reported. That on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, little Yolanda King came home from school in Atlanta and jumped in her father’s arms.
“Oh, Daddy,” she said, “now we will never get our freedom.”
Her daddy was reassuring, strong, and brave.
“Now don’t you worry, baby,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. “It’s going to be all right.”
Amid violence and fear, Dr. King persevered.
He was driven by his dream of a nation where “justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Then, in 1968 hate would cut him down in Memphis.
A few days before Dr. King was murdered, he gave a final Sunday sermon in Washington.
He told us that though the arc of a moral universe is long, it bends toward justice.
And we know we can bend it — because we have. We have to believe that still. That is our purpose. It’s been our purpose from the beginning.
To become the nation where all men and women are not only created equal — but treated equally.
To become the nation defined — in Dr. King’s words — not only by the absence of tension, but by the presence of justice.
Today in America it’s hard to keep faith that justice is at hand. I know that. You know that.
The pain is raw. The pain is real.
A president of the United States must be part of the solution, not the problem. But our president today is part of the problem.
When he tweeted the words “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” – those weren’t the words of a president. They were the words of a racist Miami police chief from the 1960s.
When he tweeted that protesters “would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs … that’s when people would have been really badly hurt.” Those weren’t the words of a president — those were the kind of words a Bull Connor would have used unleashing his dogs.
The American story is about action and reaction. That’s the way history works. We can’t be naïve about that.
I wish I could say this hate began with Donald Trump and will end with him. It didn’t and it won’t. American history isn’t a fairytale with a guaranteed happy ending.
The battle for the soul of this nation has been a constant push-and-pull for more than 240 years.
A tug of war between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh reality that racism has long torn us apart. The honest truth is both elements are part of the American character.
At our best, the American ideal wins out.
It’s never a rout. It’s always a fight. And the battle is never finally won.
But we can’t ignore the truth that we are at our best when we open our hearts, not when we clench our fists. Donald Trump has turned our country into a battlefield riven by old resentments and fresh fears.
He thinks division helps him.
His narcissism has become more important than the nation’s well-being he leads.
I ask every American to look at where we are now, and think anew: Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be? Is this what we pass on to our kids’ and grandkids’ lives? Fear and finger-pointing rather than hope and the pursuit of happiness? Incompetence and anxiety? Self-absorption and selfishness?
Or do we want to be the America we know we can be. The America we know in our hearts we could be and should be.
Look, the presidency is a big job. Nobody will get everything right. And I won’t either.
But I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate.
I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country – not use them for political gain.
I’ll do my job and take responsibility. I won’t blame others. I’ll never forget that the job isn’t about me.
It’s about you.
And I’ll work to not only rebuild this nation. But to build it better than it was.
To build a better future. That’s what America does.
We build the future. It may in fact be the most American thing to do.
We hunger for liberty the way Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass did.
We thirst for the vote the way Susan B. Anthony and Ella Baker and John Lewis did. We strive to explore the stars, to cure disease, to make this imperfect Union as perfect as we can.
We may come up short — but at our best we try.
We are facing formidable enemies.
They include not only the coronavirus and its terrible impact on our lives and livelihoods, but also the selfishness and fear that have loomed over our national life for the last three years.
Defeating those enemies requires us to do our duty — and that duty includes remembering who we should be.
We should be the America of FDR and Eisenhower, of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., of Jonas Salk and Neil Armstrong.
We should be the America that cherishes life and liberty and courage.
Above all, we should be the America that cherishes each other – each and every one.
We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us. We are a nation enraged, but we cannot allow our rage to consume us. We are a nation exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us.
As President, it is my commitment to all of you to lead on these issues — to listen. Because I truly believe in my heart of hearts, that we can overcome. And when we stand together, finally, as One America, we will rise stronger than before.
So reach out to one another. Speak out for one another. And please, please take care of each other.
This is the United States of America. And there is nothing we can’t do. If we do it together.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo proposed a positive reform agenda to address systemic racism and police brutality amidst the ongoing protests across the state and nation in response to the killing of George Floyd. The reform agenda includes a national ban on excessive force and chokeholds by law enforcement officers; independent investigations of police brutality conducted by independent, outside agencies – not by local prosecutors; and disclosure of disciplinary records of police officers being investigated.
While standing firmly in support of the protests against police brutality, the Governor said that protest for its own sake would only work against the cause, but that there needs to be a clearly defined list of actions that need to be articulated.
“You want to make that moment work,” he declared. “Yes, you express the outrage. But then you say, ‘Here’s my agenda. Here’s what I want.’ That’s what we have to be doing in this moment. And the protesters are making a point. And most of them are making a smart, sensible point. But you have to add the positive reform agenda that every voice calls for so the government, the politicians know what to do. And there is a positive reform agenda here. There should be a national ban on excessive force by police officers. There should be a national ban on chokeholds. Period. There should be independent investigations of police abuse.”
And Cuomo also differentiated between the those who are exercising their Constitutional First Amendment right to protest against those who are taking advantage to loot and vandalize, giving Trump the opportunity to deflect and discount, and shift focus to himself as the “law-and-order” strongman. Indeed, there are reports that White Nationalist group is posing as Antifa on Twitter, calling for violence. Trump is proposing to designate Antifa a terrorist group, and is using them to justify calling out military against protesters – which would be a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act.
“There’s no doubt that what the President’s trying to do here is turn the attention to the looters rather than the point of the protest, which is genuine outrage,” Cuomo said in an interview with Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC. “”You look at what happened with Mr. Floyd, you have to be outraged. It’s not just Mr. Floyd in an isolated situation, it’s been years and years of the same situation. You can go back to Rodney King, Amadou Diallo and Eric Garner – it’s a long list.
“They want to make this about looting and criminals rather than the killing. That’s what they’re trying to do. In New York, we did have large protests and we do have people who are, I think, exploiting the protest. There’s no doubt that there’s some people who came out and did looting and criminal activity. You have some disrupting organizations that are seizing upon the moment. We want to make sure that order is maintained and we’re putting in place a curfew.”
“Use this moment. You look in history, Nicolle, when did change come? Change came when the people insisted on change. Let’s talk about investigation of police abuse. No chokeholds, nation-wide standard for undue force. Let’s talk about funding of education and equal funding in education. Let’s talk about affordable housing. Let’s talk about a child poverty agenda. Let’s use the moment constructively.”
Cuomo ordered a curfew of 11 pm in New York City, and doubled the number of police, from 4,000 to 8,000. However, that was not enough to stop a spate of acts of looting and vandalism.
The protests come just as New York City was hitting the milestones in the fight against COVID-19, which has taken more lives – and more disproportionately in communities of color – in the city and state than anywhere in the country or world. The Governor said that if there was any “silver” lining in the timing, the protests are happening when the infection rate has been cut from 20 percent to 2 percent but still raised concerns of reigniting the spread of the pandemic.
Here is a transcript of Governor Cuomo’s remarks:
We’re talking about reopening in one week in New York City. Now we’re seeing these mass gatherings over the past several nights that could, in fact, exacerbate the COVID-19 spread. We spent all this time closed down, locked down, masked, socially distanced and then you turn on the TV and you see there’s mass gatherings that could potentially be infecting hundreds and hundreds of people. After everything that we have done. We have to talk a minute and ask ourselves what are we doing here? What are we trying to accomplish?
We have protests across the state that continued last night, they continued across the nation. Upstate we worked with the cities very closely. The State Police did a great job. We had, basically, a few scattered arrests, upstate New York. But the local governments did a great job, the people did a great job, law enforcement did a great job. The protestors were responsible. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad, either, upstate.
I said from day one, I share the outrage and I stand with the protestors. You look at that video of the killing of an unarmed man, Mr. Floyd, it is horrendous. Horrendous. It’s frightening. It perverts everything you believe about this country. It does and there’s no excuse for it. No right minded American would make an excuse for it. So, protest yes. Be frustrated, yes. Outraged, yes of course. Is there a larger problem? Of course. It’s not just Mr. Floyd, it goes back – there are 50 cases that are just like Mr. Floyd. We’ve them here in New York City. What’s the difference between Mr. Floyd and Amadou Diallo? Or Abner Louima? Or Eric Garner? What is the difference? What have we learned? Nothing?
So, yes, we should be outraged. And yes, there’s a bigger point to make. It is abuse by police. But it’s something worse. It is racism. It is discrimination. It is fundamental inequality and injustice. My father spoke about it in 1984. The speech called “The Tale of Two Cities.” People still talk about it. The point of the tale of two cities is there’s two Americas. Two sets of rules. Two sets of outcomes. Two sets of expectations. It’s true. It was true then, it’s true now. Look at our prisons and tell me there’s not inherit injustice in society. Look at public housing, tell me there’s not inherent injustice.
Look at what happened with this COVID infection rate nationwide. More African Americans infected, more African Americans dead proportionally than white Americans. Of course, there’s chronic institutionalized discrimination. There is no doubt. There is no doubt. And there’s no doubt that it’s been going on for a long time and people are frustrated, and it has to be corrected and it has to be corrected now. And there’s no doubt, that this nation as great as it is has had the continuing sin of discrimination. From before the nation was formed and it started with slavery. And it has had different faces over the decades, but it’s still the same sin. That is true. That is true. So let’s use this moment as a moment of change? Yes.
When does change come? When the stars align and society focuses and the people focus, and they focus to such an extent that the politicians follow the people. That’s when change comes. “Well, the leaders lead!” Baloney. The people lead. And then the politicians see the people moving, and the politicians run to catch up with the people. How did we pass marriage equality in this State, giving a new civil right to the LGBTQ community? Because the people said, “enough is enough. How can you say only heterosexual people can marry, but the LGBTQ people— they can’t marry? How is that constitutional? How is that legal?” You have your own preference— God bless you. But how in the law, do you discriminate between two classes of people. We passed marriage equality.
After the Sandy Hook massacre, after all those years we tried to pass common sense gun safety. Do you really need an assault weapon to kill a deer? But then the Sandy Hook massacre happened, and the people said, “enough. You’re killing children? Young children in schools with an assault weapon? In the Sandy Hook massacre. Enough.”
And in that moment, we passed common sense gun safety in the State of New York. Record income inequality? People said, “enough” and passed a real minimum wage in this State that went all across the nation. There’s a moment for change, and is there a moment here? Yes. If we’re constructive and if we’re smart, and if we know what were asking for! It’s not enough to come out and say, “I’m angry, I’m frustrated.” OK. And what? “Well, I don’t know, but I’m angry and frustrated.”
And you want what done? You need the answer. “Well, I want common sense gun reform.” OK, what does it look like? Here it is— three points. “Well I want to address income inequality.” Well, what do you want? “Here’s what I want. Minimum wage at $15. Free college tuition.” What do you want?
You want to make that moment work. Yes, you express the outrage! But then you say, “here’s my agenda. Here’s what I want.” That’s what we have to be doing in this moment. And the protestors are making a point. And most of them are making a smart, sensible point. But you have to add the positive reform agenda that every voice calls for so the government, the politicians know what to do. And there is a positive reform agenda here. There should be a national ban on excessive force by police officers. There should be a national ban on chokeholds. Period. There should be independent investigations of police abuse. When you have the local District Attorney doing the investigations— I don’t care how good they are— there is the suggestion of a conflict of interest. Why? Because that DA works with that police department every day and now that prosecutor is going to do the investigation of that police department that they work with every day? Conflict of interests can be real or perceived. How can people believe that the local prosecutor who works with that police department is going to be fair in the investigation? It shouldn’t be state by state. Minnesota Governor Walz put the attorney general in charge. Good. In this state, I put attorney general in charge of investigations where police kill an unarmed person. Good. But it shouldn’t be the exception. It should be the rule. There is no self-policing. There’s an allegation, independent investigation. Give people comfort that the investigation is real.
If a police officer is being investigated, how is there disciplinary records not relevant? Once a police officer is being investigated, if they have disciplinary records that show this was a repeat pattern, how is that not relevant? By the way, the disciplinary records can also be used to exonerate. If they have disciplinary records that say he never, she never did anything like this before, fine. That’s relevant too.
We still have two education systems in this country. Everybody knows it. Your education is decided by your zip code. Poorer schools in poorer communities have a different level of funding than richer schools in this state. $36,000 per year we spend in a rich district. $13,000 in a poor district. How do you justify that? If anything, the children in a poorer community need more services in a school, not less. How do you justify that? You can’t. Do something about it. You still have children living in poverty in this nation? Well, when we had to, we found a trillion dollars to handle the COVID virus, but you can’t find funding to help children who live in poverty? No, you can find it, United States. You just don’t want to. It’s political will. When you need to find the money, you can find it. Let’s be honest, the federal government has a printing press in their basement. When they have the political will, they find the money.
The federal government went out of the housing business and never re-entered it. We have a national affordable housing crisis. Of course you do. You don’t fund affordable housing. I’m the former HUD secretary. I know better than anyone what the federal government used to do in terms of affordable housing with Section 8 and building new public housing. And we just stopped, and we left it to the market. Now you have an affordable housing plan. That’s what we should be addressing in this moment. And we should be saying to our federal officials, “There’s an election this year, a few months away. Here’s my agenda. Where do you stand?” Say to the congress, the House and Senate, “Where’s your bill on this?”
I heard some congressional people talking saying well maybe they’ll do a resolution. Yeah, resolutions are nice. Resolutions say in theory I support this. Pass a law, that’s what we want. A law that actually changes the reality, where something actually happens. That’s government’s job is to actually make change. Make change. You’re in a position to make change. Make change. Use this moment to galvanize public support. Use that outrage to actually make the change. And have the intelligence to say what changes you actually want. Otherwise, it’s just screaming into the wind if you don’t know exactly what changes we need to make.
And we have to be smart in this moment. The violence in these protests obscures the righteousness of the message. The people who are exploiting the situation, the looting, that’s not protesting. That’s not righteous indignation. That’s criminality and it plays into the hands of the people and the forces that don’t want to make the changes in the first place because then they get to dismiss the entire effort. I will tell you what they’re going to say. They’re going to say the first thing the President said when this happened. They’re going to say “These are looters.” Remember when the President put out that incendiary tweet? “We start shooting when they start looting or they start looting, we start shooting?” That’s an old ’60s call. The violence, the looting, the criminality plays right into those people who don’t want progressive change. And you mark my words, they’re going to say today, “Oh you see, they’re criminals. They’re looters. Did you see what they did breaking the store windows and going in and stealing?” And they’re going to try to paint this whole protest movement that they’re all criminals, they’re all looters. That’s what they’re going to do. Why? They don’t want to talk about Mr. Floyd’s death. They don’t want people seeing that video. They want people seeing the video of the looting. And when people see the video of the looting they say “Oh yeah, that’s scary. They’re criminals.” No, look at the video of the police officer killing Mr. Floyd. That’s the video we want people watching.
Now, I don’t even believe it’s the protesters. I believe there are people who are using this moment and using the protest for their own purpose. There are people who want to sow the seeds of anarchy, who want to disrupt. By the way, there are people who want to steal. And here’s a moment that you can use this moment to steal. You can use this moment to spread chaos. I hear the same thing from all the local officials. They have people in their communities who are there to quote unquote protest. They’re not from their community. They don’t know where they’re from, extremist groups, some people are going to blame the left, some people will blame the right. It will become politicized. But there is no doubt there are outside groups that come in to disrupt. There is no doubt that there are people who just use this moment to steal. What, it’s a coincidence they broke into a Rolex watch company? That was a coincidence? High end stores, Chanel. That was a coincidence? That was random? That was not random. So, can you have a legitimate protest movement hijacked? Yes, you can. Yes, you can. And there are people and forces who will exploit that moment and I believe that’s happening.
But we still have to be smart. And at the same time, we have a fundamental issue which is we just spent 93 days limiting behavior, closing down, no school, no business, thousands of small businesses destroyed. People will have lost their jobs. People wiped out their savings. And now mass gatherings with thousands of people in close proximity one week before we’re going to reopen New York City? What sense does this make? Control the spread, control the spread, control the spread. We don’t even know the consequence for the COVID virus of those mass gatherings. We don’t even know. We won’t know possibly for weeks. It’s the nature of the virus. How many super-spreaders were in that crowd? “Well, they were mostly young people.” How many young people went home and kissed their mother hello or shook hands with their father or hugged their father or their grandfather or their brother or their mother or their sister and spread a virus?
New York City opens next week. Took us 93 days to get here. Is this smart? New York tough. We went from the worst situation to reopening. From the worst situation to 54 deaths in 50 days. We went from the worst situation to reopening in 93 days. We did that because we were New York tough. New York tough was smart. We were smart. We were smart for 93 days. We were united, we were respectful of each other. We were disciplined. Wearing the mask is just discipline, it’s just discipline. Remember to put it on, remember to pick it up, remembering to put it on when see someone, it’s just discipline.
It was also about love. We did it because we love one another. That’s what a community is. We love one another. And yes, you can be loving even in New York. Even with the New York toughness, even with a New York accent, even with a New York swagger. We’re loving. That’s what we’ve done for 93 days in a way we’ve never done it before. Never in my lifetime. Never in my lifetime has this city and this state come together in the way we have. I don’t think it ever will again, in my lifetime. Now you can say maybe it takes a global pandemic for it to happen. I don’t know if that’s true and I don’t know that the power of what it was like when it came together might not be so beautiful that people want to do it again.
Remember when we all acted together during coronavirus and we rallied and we knocked coronavirus on its rear end. Remember when we all wore masks and we had to have hand sanitizer? Remember what we did? Wow. When we come together, we can do anything and it’s true. It’s true for the state, it’s true for a nation. When you come together and you have one agenda you can do anything. You want to change society, you want to end the tale of two cities, you want to make it one America? You can do that, just the way you knocked coronavirus on its rear end.
People united can do anything. We showed that, we just showed that the past 93 days. We can end the injustice and the discrimination and the intolerance and the police abuse. We have to be smart. We have to be smart right now. Right now in this state. We have to be smart tonight in this city because this is not advancing a reform agenda. This is not persuading government officials to change. This is not helping end coronavirus. We have to be smart.
In the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump had trouble whipping up even a few African Americans to attend a campaign event, and at one, famously said, “What have you got to lose?”. Now, after the coronavirus pandemic has revealed the extraordinary level of inequality – in health care access, income, environment – in communities of color, resulting in disproportionate numbers of cases and deaths, and his actions to prop up companies and the wealthiest while literally forcing people of color and immigrants on the frontlines to sacrifice their own lives and families for less than a living wage, we now can see “what it is you have to lose.” Trump likes to fantasize about the “lowest unemployment levels” among African Americans, but he had little to do with it. On the other hand, he has done everything possible to remove any of the levers to upward mobility, including making it harder to access food stamps, Medicaid, ending enforcement of work rules, civil rights, voting rights. His actions that will quite literally bankrupt state and local governments mean public workers – those so-called “essential workers” – will lose jobs by the hundreds of thousands. Now former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, offers his own plan for Black America. Here is a fact sheet from the Biden campaign – Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.
Lift Every Voice: The Biden Plan for Black America
Joe Biden knows that African Americans can never have a fair shot at the American Dream so long as entrenched disparities are allowed to quietly chip away at opportunity. He is running for President to rebuild our economy in a way that finally brings everyone along—and that starts by rooting out systemic racism from our laws, our policies, our institutions, and our hearts.
This mission is more important now than ever before, as the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 have shined a light on—and cruelly exacerbated—the disparities long faced by African Americans. In April 2020, Biden called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect more data regarding how COVID-19 is affecting communities, including breaking down its impacts by race. The data we’ve seen so far suggests that African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than whites. Long-standing systemic inequalities are contributing to this disparity—including the fact that African Americans are more likely to be uninsured and to live in communities where they are exposed to high levels of air pollution. African Americans also represent an especially high percentage of the front-line workers putting themselves at greater risk to sustain the economy and keep the rest of the country safe and fed—and are less likely to have a job they can do from home, forcing them to make the difficult choice between their health and a paycheck. While there’s a lot we don’t yet know about COVID-19, we do know that equitable distribution of resources, like testing and medical equipment, can make a difference in fighting the virus. Biden believes this should be a priority and action must be taken now.
COVID-19 is also having a disproportionate economic impact on African American families. African American small businesses have been hit hard, and over 90% of African American-owned businesses are estimated to be shut out of the initial relief program due to preexisting, systemic disparities in lending. This is especially dire given that African American families have less of a financial cushion to fall back on in hard times. Biden has been calling for the nation’s relief and recovery efforts to be equitable and just, including by designing relief programs in ways that avoid methods we know lead to disparate outcomes—so that funds can actually reach African American families, communities, and small businesses. President Trump has not heeded his warnings. If Biden were President today, he would make it a top priority to ensure that African American workers, families, and small businesses got the relief they need and deserve.
Tackling systemic racism and fighting for civil rights has been a driving force throughout Biden’s career in public service. He has a record of fighting for and delivering for the African American community. As a U.S. Senator he co-sponsored the Civil Rights Act of 1990 to protect against employment discrimination and led multiple reauthorizations of the Voting Rights Act, protecting African Americans’ right to vote. Biden also led efforts to reauthorize and extend the Fair Housing Act, and as Delaware’s Senator, was a vocal advocate and supporter of Delaware State University, the state’s Historically Black University.
Today, we need a comprehensive agenda for African Americans with ambition that matches the scale of the challenge and with recognition that race-neutral policies are not a sufficient response to race-based disparities.
Advance the economic mobility of African Americans and close the racial wealth and income gaps.
Expand access to high-quality education and tackle racial inequity in our education system.
Make far-reaching investments in ending health disparities by race.
Strengthen America’s commitment to justice.
Make the right to vote and the right to equal protection real for African Americans.
Address environmental justice.
ADVANCE THE ECONOMIC MOBILITY OF AFRICAN AMERICANS AND CLOSE THE RACIAL WEALTH AND INCOME GAPS
Invest in African American Businesses and Entrepreneurs
Approximately 4% of small business owners are African American, even though African Americans make up approximately 13% of the population. To build wealth in African American communities, we must invest in the success of African American businesses and entrepreneurs.
Ensuring equal access to credit and capital. African American businesses often lack the capital they need to succeed. African American businesses are rejected at a rate nearly 20% higher than the white-owned firms. Even worse, African American businesses that do get funding receive only 40% of the funds requested as compared to 70% for white businesses. To increase investment and access to capital, Biden will:
Double funding for the State Small Business Credit Initiative. The Obama-Biden Administration created the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) to support small businesses, driving $10 billion in new lending for each $1 billion in SSBCI funds. Biden will extend the program through 2025 and double its federal funding to $3 billion, driving close to $30 billion of private sector investments to small businesses all told, especially those owned by women and people of color.
Expand the New Markets Tax Credit, make the program permanent, and double Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) funding. The New Markets Tax Credit has helped draw tens of billions of dollars in new capital to low-income communities, providing tax credits to investors in community development organizations that support everything from supermarkets to real estate projects to manufacturing plants. As part of his plan to reinvest in communities across the country, including in rural areas, Biden will also double funding for the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, which supports local, mission-driven financial institutions in low-income areas around the U.S. This builds on Biden’s proposal to support entrepreneurs in small towns and rural areas by expanding both the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program and the number of Rural Business Investment Companies, to help rural businesses attract capital.
Improve and expand the Small Business Administration programs that most effectively support African American-owned businesses. The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) programs have been and remain one of the most effective ways of accessing capital for African American-owned businesses. Biden will strengthen these existing programs by:
Ensuring the SBA has the funding it needs to support African American-owned business and others in the current crisis and beyond. Trump has once again proposed a massive cut of 25% in the SBA budget for FY2021, including a 35% cut in funding to Small Business Development Centers, a 20% cut to the SBA Microloan Program, and significantly increased fees for the 7(a) loan program, which is SBA’s main loan program for small businesses.
Making permanent the successful Community Advantage loan program, originally created during the Obama-Biden Administration. The program, which provides capital for startups and growing small businesses located in particularly underserved communities through CDFIs and other mission-driven lenders, has been run as a pilot program since 2011. Biden will make this program permanent and reverse rules enacted by the Trump Administration that are making it more difficult for lenders to participate in the program and lend to African American-owned businesses and other businesses located in underserved communities.
Increase opportunities for African American-owned businesses to obtain or participate in federal contracts. In the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, well over $100 billion of federal prime contracting dollars were awarded to minority-owned small businesses. And, between 2013 and 2016, the Obama-Biden Administration increased federal prime contract dollars going to Small Disadvantaged Businesses by nearly 30%, from $30.6 billion to $39.1 billion. The Obama-Biden Administration also created an Interagency Task Force on Federal Contracting Opportunities for Small Businesses, which included a focus on contracting opportunities for minority-owned businesses. The Obama-Biden Administration implemented its vision of more equitable access to federal contracts through a variety of channels, including by launching the Federal Procurement Center (FPC) as part of the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). The FPC, a first-of-its-kind program, helps minority-owned firms apply for and win federal government contracts. As President, Biden will build on these efforts to support the expansion of opportunities for minority-owned small businesses.
Increase funding for the Minority Business Development Agency budget. MBDA plays a critical role in supporting the development and growth of minority-owned businesses around the country, as well as providing needed assistance to federal and state agencies so that they award minority-owned businesses procurement contracts. The Trump Administration has pushed for a 75% cut in MBDA’s budget. Biden would protect and call for increased funding for it.
Protect small and disadvantaged businesses from federal and state contract bundling which often locks out African American-owned smaller firms from effectively bidding on procurement contracts. Biden will build on the anti-bundling provisions of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, by having the Office of Management and Budget, SBA, and MBDA conduct a government-wide review of existing contract bundling to determine whether agencies are following existing rules and whether agencies have the ability to further ensure small business participation in federal and state procurement opportunities.
Make sure economic relief because of COVID-19 reaches the African American businesses that need it most. The first installment of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) largely left out minority-owned businesses. The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that more than 90% of small businesses owned by people of color will not receive loans. The program is not taking into account the specific challenges that African American businesses face in accessing funding and complying with the program’s requirements. The financial institutions best positioned to help African American small businesses don’t have the systems to quickly deploy the funding in a first-come first-served approach. The second phase set aside $60 billion for community banks and CDFIs, as well as mid-sized banks, which can better serve smaller businesses and minority-owned firms. This is a good start, but more needs to be done:
Provide AfricanAmerican entrepreneurs and other small business owners technical assistance to help them apply for funding, as well as legal and accounting support to ensure their documentation (such as their financial records, tax filings, and other legal documents) is all in correct order. The Trump Administration and Congress should provide an additional infusion of operating capital to these CDFIs and community-focused lenders to ensure all African American entrepreneurs have access to the technical assistance and support they need.
Reserve half of all the new PPP funds for small businesses with 50 employees or less, so the bigger and more well-connected aren’t able to win in a first-come, first-served race. While this will help the vast majority of small businesses, it should also help target more funding to minority-owned businesses, given 98% of all minority-and women-owned businesses have fewer than 50 employees.
Produce a weekly dashboard to show which small businesses are accessing loans. Such a dashboard would help drive better data collection on the beneficiaries of small business support related to the COVID-19 epidemic, including in particular collecting data by gender and race, in order to ensure that the program isn’t leaving out communities, minority- and women-owned businesses, or the smallest businesses.
SUPPORTING AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS
Shelter-in-place orders, while critical to protecting the health of parishioners, have hit churches hard as collection revenue has virtually stopped. African American churches are especially at-risk during the downturn. One survey put the typical African American membership at just 75 congregants, while others have noted that annual revenue is down since much of it is typically collected during Easter season. At a time when many Americans will seek spiritual assistance and social support, we must ensure the preservation of religious institutions. The decision by Congress to include non-profits, including religious institutions, in the Paycheck Protection Program and Emergency Injury Disaster Loan programs was a critical first step. But the support has not flowed to these institutions the way it should. Well-connected companies were first in line for the support funding.
Expand African American Homeownership and Access to Affordable, Safe Housing
The gap between African American and white homeownership is larger today than when the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968. This has contributed to a jaw-dropping racial wealth gap—nearly 1,000%—between median white and African American households. Because home ownership is how most families save and build wealth, the disparity in home ownership is a central driver of the racial wealth gap. As President, Biden will invest $640 billion over 10 years so every American has access to housing that is affordable, stable, safe and healthy, accessible, energy efficient and resilient, and located near good schools and with a reasonable commute to their jobs. Biden will:
Help families buy their first homes and build wealth by creating a new refundable, advanceable tax credit of up to $15,000. Building off of a temporary tax credit expanded as part of the Recovery Act, this tax credit will be permanent and advanceable, meaning that homebuyers receive the tax credit when they make the purchase instead of waiting to receive the assistance when they file taxes the following year.
Tackle racial bias that leads to homes in communities of color being assessed by appraisers below their fair value. Housing in communities primarily comprised of people of color is valued at tens of thousands of dollars below majority-white communities even when all other factors are the same, contributing to the racial wealth gap. To counteract this racial bias, Biden will establish a national standard for housing appraisals that ensures appraisers have adequate training and a full appreciation for neighborhoods and do not hold implicit biases because of a lack of community understanding.
Roll back Trump Administration policies gutting fair lending and fair housing protections, strongly enforce fair credit reporting laws, and create a new Public Credit Reporting Agency. Being able to obtain a credit report is a critical step for homeownership. Biden has long been an advocate for eliminating discrimination in the provision of credit, including his legislation amending the Equal Credit Opportunity Act which prohibited creditors from discriminating against consumer applicants for credit. Today’s credit reports, which are issued by just three large private companies, are rife with problems: they often contain errors, they leave many “credit invisible” due to the sources used to generate a credit score, and they contribute to racial disparities, widening the African American homeownership gap, Biden will create a new public credit reporting agency within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to provide consumers with a government option that seeks to minimize racial disparities, for example by ensuring the algorithms used for credit scoring don’t have a discriminatory impact, and by accepting non-traditional sources of data like rental history and utility bills to establish credit.
Protect homeowners and renters from abusive lenders and landlords through a new Homeowner and Renter Bill of Rights. This new Bill of Rights will prevent mortgage brokers from leading borrowers into loans that cost more than appropriate, prevent mortgage servicers from advancing a foreclosure when the homeowner is in the process of receiving a loan modification, give homeowners a private right of action to seek financial redress from mortgage lenders and servicers that violate these protections, and give borrowers the right to a timely notification on the status of their loan modifications and to be able to appeal modification denials.
Roll back Trump Administration policies gutting fair lending and fair housing protections for homeowners.
Give local elected officials the tools and resources they need to combat gentrification. Biden will implement the Obama-Biden Administration’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule requiring communities receiving certain federal funding to proactively examine housing patterns and identify and address policies that have a discriminatory effect. The Trump Administration suspended this rule in 2018. Biden will ensure effective and rigorous enforcement of the Fair Housing Act and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. And, he will reinstate the federal risk-sharing program which has helped secure financing for thousands of affordable rental housing units in partnership with housing finance agencies.
Hold financial institutions accountable for discriminatory practices in the housing market. In 2013, the Obama-Biden Administration codified a long-standing, court-supported view that lending practices that have a discriminatory effect can be challenged even if discrimination was not explicit. But now the Trump Administration is seeking to gut this disparate impact standard by significantly increasing the burden of proof for those claiming discrimination. In the Biden Administration, this change will be reversed to ensure financial institutions are held accountable for serving all customers.
Restore the federal government’s power to enforce settlements against discriminatory lenders. The Trump Administration has stripped the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity, a division of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, of its power to enforce settlements against lenders found to have discriminated against borrowers – for example by charging significantly higher interest rates for people of color than white individuals. Biden will return power to the division so it can protect consumers from discrimination.
Strengthen and expand the Community Reinvestment Act to ensure that our nation’s bank and non-bank financial services institutions are serving all communities. The Community Reinvestment Act currently regulates banks, but does little to ensure that “fintechs” and non-bank lenders are providing responsible access to all members of the community. On top of that gap, the Trump Administration is proposing to weaken the law by allowing lenders to receive a passing rating even if the lenders are excluding many neighborhoods and borrowers. Biden will expand the Community Reinvestment Act to apply to mortgage and insurance companies, to add a requirement for financial services institutions to provide a statement outlining their commitment to the public interest, and, importantly, to close loopholes that would allow these institutions to avoid lending and investing in all of the communities they serve.
Eliminate local and state housing regulations that perpetuate discrimination. Exclusionary zoning has for decades been strategically used to keep people of color and low-income families out of certain communities. As President, Biden will enact legislation requiring any state receiving federal dollars through the Community Development Block Grants or Surface Transportation Block Grants to develop a strategy for inclusionary zoning, as proposed in the HOME Act of 2019 by Majority Whip Clyburn and Senator Cory Booker. Biden will also invest $300 million in Local Housing Policy Grants to give states and localities the technical assistance and planning support they need to eliminate exclusionary zoning policies and other local regulations that contribute to sprawl.
Increase access to affordable housing. Biden will invest in expanding the supply of affordable housing by:
Establishing a $100 billion Affordable Housing Fund to construct and upgrade affordable housing. He will ensure funding supports community development efforts, expanding the HOME program and the Capital Magnet Fund, which spurs private investment in affordable housing and economic development in distressed communities.
Providing tax incentives for the construction of more affordable housing in communities that need it most. As President, Biden will expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit – a tax provision designed to incentivize the construction or rehabilitation of affordable housing for low-income tenants that has created nearly 3 million affordable housing units since the mid-1980s – with a $10 billion investment. Biden will also invest in the development and rehabilitation of single family homes across distressed urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods through the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act.
Protect homeowners during the COVID-19 crisis. Biden has previously called for a rent freeze for qualifying individuals for the duration of the crisis, and a halt to foreclosures and evictions as people get back on their feet. Some banks are raising mortgage borrowing standards and requiring significantly higher down payments. Biden would also restrict the big banks’ ability to abandon the African American community by withdrawing from housing markets for all but the best-off buyers.
Promote More Equitable Wealth Building and a More Secure Retirement
The typical white family holds approximately ten times the wealth as the typical African Americans family—a disparity that dramatically increased over the past half century. Today, the typical wealth of a white family is $171,000, compared to just $17,600 for the typical African American family. This inequity means that many African American families have insufficient wealth to enjoy a secure retirement. In fact, in 2016, the average African American family had just $25,000 saved for retirement—due in part to a retirement saving system that affords limited incentives for middle-class African American families to save for retirement. To make the U.S. retirement system more secure and equitable, Biden will:
Equalize the tax benefits of defined contribution plans. The current tax benefits for retirement savings are based on the concept of deferral, whereby savers get to exclude their retirement contributions from tax, see their savings grow tax free, and then pay taxes when they withdraw money from their account. This system provides upper-income families with a much stronger tax break for saving and a limited benefit for middle-class and other workers with lower earnings. The Biden Plan will equalize benefits across the income scale, so that low- and middle-income workers will also get a tax break when they put money away for retirement.
Give small businesses a tax break for starting a retirement plan and giving workers the chance to save at work. Half of African American workers lack access to a retirement saving plan at work. Biden calls for widespread adoption of workplace savings plans and offers tax credits to small businesses to offset much of the costs. Under Biden’s plan, almost all workers without a pension or 401(k)-type plan will have access to an “automatic 401(k),” which provides the opportunity to easily save for retirement at work—putting millions of middle-class families in the path to a secure retirement.
Make Social Security benefits more generous and equitable. Older African Americans disproportionately depend on Social Security benefits for retirement income. To bolster retirement security for older African Americans who have spent a lifetime working, the Biden Social Security reform plan will raise benefits for vulnerable beneficiaries—including widows and widowers, low-wage workers, and long duration beneficiaries who may have exhausted all other assets. In addition, Biden proposes to boost average benefits across the board while putting Social Security on a long-term path to solvency by raising payroll taxes for workers with more than $400,000 in earnings.
Invest in Communities that Need it Most
Fully implement Congressman Clyburn’s 10-20-30 Plan to help all individuals living in persistently impoverished communities. To tackle persistent poverty in all communities, in both urban and rural America, Vice President Biden supports applying Congressman James Clyburn’s 10-20-30 formula to all federal programs, targeting funds to census tracts with persistent poverty.
Create a White House “StrikeForce” to partner with rural communities to help them access federal funds. The Biden Administration will create a White House StrikeForce consisting of agency leaders who will partner with community-building organizations in persistent poverty rural communities and help them unlock federal resources. This approach is modeled on the StrikeForce Secretary Tom Vilsack successfully established in the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Obama-Biden Administration.
Drive additional capital into low-income communities to spur the development of low-income housing. The New Markets Tax Credit draws in $8 of private investment for every $1 of federal investment in low-income communities by providing tax credits to investors in community development organizations that support everything from supermarkets to real estate projects to manufacturing plants. Biden will expand the program to provide $5 billion in support every year, and will make the program permanent so communities can take the credit into account in their long-term planning.
Build and modernize infrastructure in communities that need it most. Biden has offered a transformational $1.3 trillion plan to create millions of good-paying, union jobs—roads, ports, waterways, schools, broadband, schools, and more. His plan includes specific measures to close the resource gap in communities of color. Biden will:
Invest in historically marginalized communities and bring everyone to the table for transportation planning. Biden will create a new Community Restoration Fund, specifically for neighborhoods where historic transportation investments cut people off from jobs, schools, and businesses. And, he will work to make sure towns and cities directly receive a portion of existing federal transportation investments.
Bring broadband to every American household. As President, Biden will close the digital divide. First, he will invest $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure. He will triple funding to expand broadband access in rural areas, and ensure that the work of installing broadband provides high-paying jobs with benefits. He will encourage competition among providers, to increase speeds and decrease prices in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Biden will also work with the FCC to reform its Lifeline program, increasing the number of participating broadband providers, reducing fraud and abuse, and ultimately offering more low-income Americans the subsidies needed to access high-speed internet. Finally, Biden will work with Congress to pass the Digital Equity Act, to help communities tackle the digital divide.
Biden is proposing a plan to grow a stronger, more inclusive middle class—the backbone of the American economy—by strengthening public and private sector unions and helping all workers bargain successfully for what they deserve. Biden knows that African Americans face unique challenges as workers. Biden will support these workers by:
Fight for equal pay. African American women earned 61 cents for every dollar earned by white men in 2017. This totals $23,653 less in earnings in a year and $946,120 less in a lifetime. The Obama-Biden Administration protected more workers against retaliation for discussing wages and required employers to collect and report wage gaps to the federal government. As President, Biden will codify this into law, and he’ll make it easier for workers to join together in class action lawsuits, shift the burden to employers to prove pay gaps exist for job-related reasons, and increase penalties against companies that discriminate, as called for in the Paycheck Fairness Act. And, he’ll hold companies accountable by increasing funding for investigators and enforcement actions.
Ensure federally funded projects protect workers. Biden will propose infrastructure legislation that incorporates labor provisions contained in Senator Merkley’s Good Jobs for 21st Century Energy Act, adopting all basic labor protections, ensuring that all investments meet Davis-Bacon wage guidelines, and banning anti-worker provisions like forced arbitration and the overuse of temporary staffing agencies. He will require federally funded projects to employ workers trained in registered apprenticeship programs, and to prioritize Project Labor and Community Workforce Agreements in federal procurement procedures. His proposal will make sure that national infrastructure investments create millions of middle-class jobs, benefiting union and non-union workers across industries. Read Joe Biden’s full plan to encourage unions and collective bargaining at joebiden.com/empowerworkers.
Encourage diverse hiring and promotion practices. To push companies to look hard at their hiring practices and root out discrimination, Biden will require companies to make public their overall workforce diversity and senior-level diversity. He will support employers in increasing diverse hiring and promotion by providing federal grants to states, cities, and organizations to develop and implement evidence-based practices and innovative solutions, such as ban the box legislation, to push employers to hire and retain diverse employees and end discriminatory hiring policies. And, he will hold companies accountable by increasing funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), and the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to increase the number of investigators.
Restore the federal government’s role in setting the bar for other employers to advance opportunities for all workers. Biden will restore and build on the Obama-Biden Administration’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order, which Trump revoked, requiring employers’ compliance with labor and employment laws be taken into account in determining whether they are sufficiently responsible to be entrusted with federal contracts. And, he will mandate that contractors publicly disclose plans to recruit and advance people of color, women, people with disabilities, and covered veterans and will increase enforcement efforts, including pursuing debarment where contractors refuse to end discriminatory practices.
Protect essential workers in the COVID-19 crisis. A report published in April found that “Black Americans are overrepresented in nine of the ten lowest-paid, high-contact essential services, which elevates their risk of contracting the virus.” Joe Biden has released a plan to protect these essential workers, and give them the respect, dignity, and pay they deserve. If he were President, he would:
Ensure all frontline workers, like grocery store employees, qualify for priority access to personnel protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing based upon their risk of exposure to the virus, as well as child care assistance, and other forms of emergency COVID-19 support.
Expand access to effective personal protective equipment, including through use of the Defense Production Act.
Establish and enforce health and safety standards for workplaces.
Enact premium pay for frontline workers putting themselves at risk. There is no substitute for ensuring worker safety, but all frontline workers putting their lives on the line should receive premium pay for their work. This premium pay should be in addition to paid sick leave and care-giving leave for every worker, which Biden called for in his plan, and $15 minimum wage for all workers.
Turn unemployment insurance into employment insurance. African American workers are more likely to work in jobs subject to reduced hours, furloughs, and layoffs during the pandemic. Biden would transform unemployment insurance into employment insurance for millions of workers by getting states to adopt and dramatically scale up short-time compensation programs. Under short-time compensation—also known as work sharing—firms in distress keep workers employed but at reduced hours and the federal government helps make up the difference in wages. The Obama-Biden administration championed this approach in the U.S., and so far more than half of states have established short-time compensation programs. For the current crisis, the administration should move rapidly to scale up short-time compensation in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to save or restore millions of jobs.
EXPAND ACCESS TO HIGH-QUALITY EDUCATION AND TACKLE RACIAL INEQUITY IN OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM
As President, Biden will ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability. Biden will build an education system that starts with investing in our children at birth and helps every student get some education beyond a high school diploma, whether a certification, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree. Biden will:
Provide high-quality, universal pre-kindergarten for all three- and four-year-olds. For families with young children, finding highly quality pre-K is a major financial, logistical, and emotional burden, with potentially lifelong consequences for their children. As President, Biden will work with states to offer pre-K for all three- and four-year-olds.
Eliminate the funding gap between white and non-white districts, and rich and poor districts in order to give teachers a raise and expand STEM curriculum in underserved school districts. There’s an estimated $23 billion annual funding gap between white and non-white school districts today. Biden will work to close this gap by nearly tripling Title I funding, the federal program funding schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families. This new funding will first be used to ensure teachers at Title I schools are paid competitively, three- and four-year olds have access to pre-school, and districts provide access to rigorous coursework—including computer science and other STEM subjects—across all their schools, not just a few.
Improve teacher diversity. For African American students, having just one African American teacher in elementary school reduces the probability of dropping out. Biden will support more innovative approaches to recruiting teachers of color, including supporting high school students in accessing dual-enrollment classes that give them an edge in teacher preparation programs, helping paraprofessionals work towards their teaching certificate, and working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions to recruit and prepare teachers.
Reinstate the Obama-Biden Administration’s actions to diversify our schools. As President, Biden will reinstate the Department of Education guidance that supported schools in legally pursuing desegregation strategies and recognized institutions of higher education’s interests in creating diverse student bodies. And, he will provide grants to school districts to create plans and implement strategies to diversify their schools.
Ensure that African American students are not inappropriately identified as having disabilities, while also ensuring that African American students with disabilities have the support to succeed. African American students are 40% more likely to be identified as having any disability, and twice as likely to be identified as having certain disabilities, such as emotional disturbance and intellectual disabilities. The Obama-Biden Administration issued regulations to address racial disparities in special education programs, including disproportionate identification. The Trump Administration attempted to illegally delay the Obama-Biden Administration’s regulation. Biden will fully implement this regulation and provide educators the resources that they need to provide students with disabilities a high-quality education by fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Address the African American student debt crisis. The student debt burden has a disproportionate impact on African Americans. The typical bachelor’s degree graduate has about $16,000 in debt compared to $23,400 for African Americans students. According to a recent Brookings Institution study, African Americans graduating with a four year degree are 5 times more likely to default on their student loans than white graduates. African American students are three times more likely to default on their student loans than white student borrowers. The inequitable burden of student loan debt contributes to the stark racial wealth gap that exists in society. Biden’s plans to address student loan debt will alleviate student debt burdens by:
Including in the COVID-19 response an immediate cancellation of a minimum of $10,000 of federal student loan debt.
Forgiving all undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from two- and four-year public colleges for debt-holders earning up to $125,000. This will also apply to individuals holding federal student loans for tuition from private HBCUs and MSIs.
Forgiving loan payments for individuals making $25,000 or less per year and capping loan payments at 5% of discretionary income for those making more.
Fixing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and forgiving $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt for every year of national or community service, up to five years.
Cracking down on private lenders profiteering off of students by empowering the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take action against private lenders who are misleading students about their options and do not provide an affordable payment plan when individuals are experiencing acute periods of financial hardship.
Permitting the discharge of student loans in bankruptcy.
Increase college completion by making college affordable for African American students. Our postsecondary education system has not done enough to help African American students access, afford, and succeed in high-quality postsecondary education. 64% of white students graduate from four year institutions, compared to only 40% of African Americans. To help African American students access and complete college, Biden will:
Make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000, including students at public HBCUs.
Providing two years of community college or other high-quality training programs without debt for any hard-working individual looking to learn and improve their skills to keep up with the changing nature of work. This commitment includes two-year public HBCUs. Individuals will also be able to use these funds to pursue training programs that have a track record of participants completing their programs and securing good jobs, including adults who never had the chance to pursue additional education beyond high school or who need to learn new skills.
Targeting additional financial support to low-income and middle-class individuals by doubling the maximum value of Pell grants, significantly increasing the number of middle-class Americans who can participate in the program. According to the Department of Education, almost 60% of African American undergraduates received a Pell grant during the 2015-2016 academic year. Biden also will restore formerly incarcerated individuals’ eligibility for Pell.
Invest over $70 billion in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions that will train our next generation of African American professionals. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are key to educating our next generations of African American leaders. They enroll about 10% of African American students, while accounting for more than 20% of African American bachelor’s degrees awarded. 40% of African American engineers and 80% of African American judges are HBCU graduates. But these institutions do not receive the investment that reflects their importance. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund estimates that the typical HBCU endowment is one-eighth the average size of historically white colleges. As President, Biden will take steps to rectify the funding disparities faced by HBCUs so that the United States can benefit from their unique strengths. Biden will:
Make HBCUs more affordable for their students. Biden will invest $18 billion in grants to four-year HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), equivalent to up to two years of tuition per low-income and middle class student. He will invest additional funds in private, non-profit HBCUs and under-resourced MSIs so they are not undermined by the Biden proposal to make four-year public colleges and universities tuition-free for students. Schools must invest in lowering costs, improving retention and graduation rates, and closing equity gaps year over year for students of color.
Reduce disparities in funding for HBCUs and MSIs.
Invest $10 billion to create at least 200 new centers of excellence that serve as research incubators and connect students underrepresented in fields critical to our nation’s future – including fields tackling climate change, globalization, inequality, health disparities, and cancer – to learning and career opportunities.
Build the high tech labs and facilities and digital infrastructure needed for learning, research, and innovation at HBCUs and MSIs.
Invest $5 billion in graduate programs in teaching, health care, and STEM and will develop robust internship and career pipelines at major research agencies.
Create a “Title I for postsecondary education” to help students at under-resourced four-year schools complete their degrees. The Biden Administration will establish a new grant program to support under-resourced four-year schools that serve large numbers of Pell-eligible students. The funds will be used to foster collaboration between colleges and community-based organizations to provide wraparound support services for students, including additional financial aid to cover textbook and transportation costs that often keep students from staying enrolled, to child care and mental health services, faculty mentoring, tutoring, and peer support groups.
Make a $50 billion investment in workforce training, including community-college business partnerships and apprenticeships. These funds will create and support partnerships between community colleges, businesses, unions, state, local, and tribal governments, universities, and high schools to identify in-demand knowledge and skills in a community and develop or modernize training programs – which could be as short as a few months or as long as two years – that lead to a relevant, high-demand industry-recognized credential.
MAKE FAR-REACHING INVESTMENTS IN ENDING HEALTH DISPARITIES BY RACE
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the long-standing, pervasive disparities that exist across our health care system due to unequal access to treatment. An early analysis indicates that counties with majority-African American populations have coronavirus infection rates three times higher than counties with majority white residents, with death rates nearly six times higher. Although COVID-19 can hit anyone anywhere, it does not affect every community the same. African Americans are more likely to be uninsured and report higher rates of chronic health problems, and these factors increase their chances of becoming seriously ill and dying from this disease. This is unconscionable. Biden calls on Congress to immediately enact Senator Kamala Harris’ bill to create a task force to address the racial disparities that have been laid bare by this pandemic. As President, he will do everything in his power to eliminate health care disparities.
Ensuring access to health care during this crisis. In the short-term, Biden’s COVID-19 response plan calls on the Trump Administration to drop its support of a lawsuit to overturn Obamacare. Millions of Americans may lose their health insurance because they lose their job, and millions more may find health care increasingly difficult to afford. During this crisis, Biden would expand access to quality, affordable health care for all through:
Creating a public option;
Providing full payment of premiums for COBRA plans;
Increasing Affordable Care Act subsidies;
Reopening Obamacare enrollment so uninsured individuals can get insured;
Increasing federal investments in Medicaid;
Ensuring that every person, whether insured or uninsured, will not have to pay a dollar out-of-pocket for visits related to COVID-19 testing, treatment, preventative services, and any eventual vaccine. No co-payments, no deductibles, and no surprise medical billing.
Reducing the uninsured rate for African Americans by creating a public option health plan. Nationally, 11% of nonelderly African Americans are uninsured, compared to 8% of white people. This disparity is far greater in states with Republican governors who have not expanded Medicaid. Biden will give all Americans a new choice, a public health insurance option like Medicare. And he will ensure the individuals who would be eligible for Medicaid but for their state’s inaction are automatically enrolled on to the public option, at no cost to the individual.
Improving care for patients with chronic conditions, by coordinating among all of a patient’s doctors. This is particularly important for patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, which disproportionately impact African Americans.
Lowering costs for African Americans enrolled in Obamacare plans by increasing the value of tax credits to lower premium and lowering deductibles by making other changes to how the tax credits are calculated.
Lowering drug prices, by allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug prices and stopping drug companies from price gouging on new drugs.
Reducing our unacceptably high African American maternal mortality rate. African American women are 2.5 times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than non-Hispanic white women. California came up with a strategy that halved the state’s maternal death rate. The Biden plan takes the California strategy nationwide.
Expanding access to reproductive health care, including contraception and protecting the constitutional right to choose. Biden supports repealing the Hyde Amendment. He will also restore funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides services necessary to address health disparities, including breast cancer screenings and HIV/AIDS counseling, screening, and treatment. The breast cancer death rate is over 40% higher for African Americans than white women, and in 2016, African American women comprised 60% of new HIV cases.
Doubling the nation’s investment in community health centers. Community health centers provide primary, prenatal, and other important care, and their patients are disproportionately members of racial and ethnic minority groups, including African Americans.
Expanding access to mental health care. African Americans are far less likely to receive mental health services or compared to white adults. Biden will ensure mental health parity and eliminating the stigma around mental health are critical to closing this gap.
Tackling social determinants of health. Because racial health disparities are the result of years of systemic inequality not only in our health care system, but across our economy, other parts of Joe Biden’s agenda are also necessary to improve the overall well-being of African Americans. For example, African Americans are more likely to face exposure to air pollutants that cause respiratory illnesses that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
Invest in the diverse talent at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to solve the country’s most pressing problems, including health disparities. As part of Biden’s more than $70 billion investment in HBCUs and MSIs, he will invest $10 billion to create at least 200 new centers of excellence that serve as research incubators and connect students underrepresented in fields critical to our nation’s future to learning and career opportunities. He will develop robust internship and career pipelines at major research agencies, including National Institutes of Health. He will also dedicate additional and increased priority funding streams at federal agencies for grants and contracts for HBCUs and MSIs. And, he will require any federal research grants to universities with an endowment of over $1 billion to form a meaningful partnership and enter into a 10% minimum subcontract with an HBCU, TCU, or MSI.
Build a diverse pipeline of health care professionals by investing in health care graduate programs at HBCUs and MSIs. As part of Biden’s more than $70 billion investment in HBCUs and MSis, he will invest $5 billion in graduate programs in health care, along with teaching and STEM, at HBCUs and MSIs.
Today, too many people are incarcerated in the United States – and too many of them are African American. To build safe and healthy communities, we need to rethink who we’re sending to prison, how we treat those in prison, and how we help them get the health care, education, jobs, and housing they need to successfully rejoin society after they serve their time. As President, Biden will strengthen America’s commitment to justice and reform our criminal justice system.
The Biden Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice is based on several core principles:
We can and must reduce the number of people incarcerated in this country while also reducing crime. Reducing the number of incarcerated individuals will reduce federal spending on incarceration. These savings should be reinvested in the communities impacted by mass incarceration.
Our criminal justice system cannot be just unless we root out the racial, gender, and income-based disparities in the system. African American mothers and fathers should feel confident that their children are safe walking the streets of America. And, when a police officer pins on that shield and walks out the door, the officer’s family should know they’ll come home at the end of the day. Additionally, women and children are uniquely impacted by the criminal justice system, and the system needs to address their unique needs.
Our criminal justice system must be focused on redemption and rehabilitation. Making sure formerly incarcerated individuals have the opportunity to be productive members of our society is not only the right thing to do, it will also grow our economy.
No one should be profiteering off of our criminal justice system.
Biden will call for the immediate passage of Congressman Bobby Scott’s SAFE Justice Act, an evidence-based, comprehensive bill to reform our criminal justice system “from front-end sentencing reform to back-end release policies.” The Biden Plan will also go further. Biden will take bold action to reduce our prison population, create a more just society, and make our communities safer. He will:
Expand and use the power of the U.S. Justice Department to address systemic misconduct in police departments and prosecutors’ offices. Using authority in legislation spearheaded by Biden as senator, the Obama-Biden Justice Department used pattern-or-practice investigations and consent decrees to address circumstances of “systemic police misconduct” and to “restore trust between police and communities” in cities such as Ferguson. Yet, the Trump Administration’s Justice Department has limited the use of this tool. Under the Biden Administration, the Justice Department will again use its authority to root out unconstitutional or unlawful policing. In addition, Biden will push for legislation to clarify that this pattern-or-practice investigation authority can also be used to address systemic misconduct by prosecutors’ offices.
Establish an independent Task Force on Prosecutorial Discretion. The Biden Administration will create a new task force, placed outside of the U.S. Department of Justice, to make recommendations for tackling discrimination and other problems in our justice system that results from arrest and charging decisions.
Reinvigorate community-oriented policing. Policing works best when officers are out of their cruisers and walking the streets, engaging with and getting to know members of their communities. But in order to do that, police departments need resources to hire a sufficient number of officers. Biden spearheaded the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which authorized funding both for the hiring of additional police officers and for training on how to undertake a community policing approach. However, the program has never been funded to fulfill the original vision for community policing. Biden will reinvigorate the COPS program with a $300 million investment. As a condition of the grant, hiring of police officers must mirror the racial diversity of the community they serve. Additionally, as President, Biden will establish a panel to scrutinize what equipment is used by law enforcement in our communities.
Invest in public defenders’ offices to ensure defendants’ access to quality counsel. Defenders’ resources and support are too decentralized and too hard to access. Biden will expand the Obama-Biden effort to expand resources for public defenders’ offices.
Create a $20 billion grant program to support criminal justice reform at the state and local level. Funds can be used by cities and states on measures proven to reduce crime and incarceration, and require states to eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes in order to receive funding.
Reform sentencing. Biden will work with Congress to reform federal sentencing and provide incentives to state and local systems to do the same. He will end, once and for all, the federal crack and powder cocaine disparity, decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions, and end all incarceration for drug use alone and instead divert individuals to drug courts and treatment. He will work to eliminate mandatory minimums and the death penalty.
End the criminalization of poverty. Cash bail is the modern-day debtors’ prison. Biden will lead a national effort to end cash bail and reform our pretrial system by putting in place, instead, a system that is fair and does not inject further discrimination or bias into the process. And, he will work to end the practice of jailing people for being too poor to pay fines and fees.
Stop corporations from profiteering off of incarceration. Biden will end the federal government’s use of private prisons, building off an Obama-Biden Administration’s policyrescinded by the Trump Administration. And, he will make clear that the federal government should not use private facilities for any detention, including detention of undocumented immigrants.
Eliminate existing barriers preventing formerly incarcerated individuals from fully participating in society. For example, Biden will eliminate barriers keeping formerly incarcerated individuals from accessing public assistance such as SNAP, Pell grants, and housing support. The Biden Administration will incentivize states to automatically restore voting rights for individuals convicted of felonies once they have served their sentences. He will also expand access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment, as well as educational opportunities and job training for individuals during and after incarceration.
Reform the juvenile justice system. Biden will invest $1 billion per year in juvenile justice reform. He will expand funding for after-school programs, community centers, and summer jobs to keep young people active, busy, learning, and having fun. Biden will double the number of mental health professionals in our schools so behavioral and emotional challenges can be addressed by appropriately skilled psychologists, counselors, and social workers, not our criminal justice system. And, he will restore the Obama-Biden Administration guidance to help schools address the high number of suspensions and expulsions that affect students of color at a higher rate than white students.
Make our communities safer. Biden will pursue evidence-based measures to root out persistent violent crime. Violent offenders need to be held accountable, and survivors need to have access to support to deal with the physical, psychological, and financial consequences of violence. Biden will tackle the rise in hate crimes through moral leadership that makes clear such vitriol has no place in the United States. And, in the Biden Administration, the Justice Department will prioritize prosecuting hate crimes. Additionally, Biden will address the daily acts of gun violence in our communities that may not make national headlines, but are just as devastating to survivors and victims’ families as gun violence that does make the front page. These daily acts of gun violence disproportionately impact communities of color. Biden will create a $900 million, eight-year initiative to fund evidence-based interventions in 40 cities across the country – the 20 cities with the highest number of homicides, and 20 cities with the highest number of homicides per capita. This proposal is estimated to save more than 12,000 lives over the eight-year program.
MAKE THE RIGHT TO VOTE AND THE RIGHT TO EQUAL PROTECTION REAL FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS
President Trump has rolled back civil rights enforcement across the government and cut staff for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In the first two years of the Trump Administration, the Division started 60% fewer investigations than during the Obama-Biden Administration. As President, Biden will reverse the damage done by Trump and increase funding for civil rights enforcement. He will ensure that the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the EEOC, and agency civil rights enforcement offices have the resources they need to root out and stop discrimination. He will also:
Ensure that political appointees, including the President’s Cabinet, look like the country they serve, and ensure that our federal workforce is representative of the demographics in our country. The Obama-Biden Administration made great progress in building a diverse federal workforce, but Biden knows work remains for the country to fully realize the benefits of the talents, abilities, and perspectives of a workforce that looks like the country. As President, Biden will nominate and appoint people who look like the country they serve and share Biden’s commitment to rigorous enforcement of civil rights protections. He will reissue and mandate strict compliance with the Obama-Biden executive order to promote diversity and inclusion. He will rebuild the pipeline of workers into the federal government and incentivize more qualified workers to choose public service by forgiving $10,000 a year in student debt for up to five years of public service. He’ll tap into the best and brightest talent from every source by developing career pipelines from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions into federal agencies. Biden will also provide more training and mentoring opportunities to improve retention, and collect better data about who is applying for federal service positions as well as being promoted.
Appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices and federal judges who look like America, are committed to the rule of law, understand the importance of individual civil rights and civil liberties in a democratic society, and respect foundational precedents like Brown vs. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade. Biden has also pledged to appoint the first African American woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, a move which is long overdue. We can’t have four more years of Trump appointees filling lifetime judiciary seats. Trump has already appointed 193 federal judges – including two Supreme Court justices. Only eight are African American. Three Trump appointees were rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association.
Ensure every vote counts. Since the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, an increasing number of states have passed laws with no apparent purpose besides making it more difficult to vote, especially for people of color. It’s just as un-American now as it was during Jim Crow. As President, Biden will strengthen our democracy by guaranteeing that every American’s vote is protected. He will start by passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act to update section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and develop a new process for pre-clearing election changes. He also will ensure that the Justice Department challenges state laws suppressing the right to vote. Biden supports automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and many more steps to make exercising one’s right to vote easier. Biden will ensure that the Justice Department has the resources and authority to enforce laws that protect our voting rights. Biden believes we need to end gerrymandering and we must protect our voting booths and voter rolls from foreign powers that seek to undermine our democracy and interfere in our elections. And, the Biden Administration will incentivize states to automatically restore voting rights for individuals convicted of felonies once they have served their sentences.
Combat the epidemic of violence against transgender women of color. As a direct response to the high rates of homicide of transgender people—particularly transgender women of color—the Biden Administration will make prosecuting their murderers a priority. And, during his first 100 days in office, Biden will direct federal resources to help prevent violence against transgender women, particularly transgender women of color. Recognizing that employment and housing discrimination lead to increased risk of homelessness and violence, Biden will also work to pass the Equality Act to reduce economic barriers and social stigma and the LGBTQ Essential Data Act to help collect a wide variety of critical data about anti-trans violence and the factors that drive it.
Tackle systemic racism and support a study of the continuing impacts of slavery. We must acknowledge that there can be no realization of the American dream without grappling with the original sin of slavery, and the centuries-long campaign of violence, fear, and trauma wrought upon African American people in this country. As Biden has said in this campaign, a Biden Administration will support a study of reparations. Biden will begin on day one of his Administration to address the systemic racism that persists across our institutions today. That’s why he developed education, climate change, and health care policies, among others, that will root out this systemic racism and ensure that all Americans have a fair shot at living the American dream.
ADDRESS ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Biden knows we cannot turn a blind eye to the way in which environmental burdens and benefits have been and will continue to be distributed unevenly along racial and socioeconomic lines – not just with respect to climate change, but also pollution of our air, water, and land. The evidence of these disproportionate harms is clear. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and the National Pharmaceutical Council, African Americans are almost three times more likely to die from asthma related causes than their white counterparts. People of color are more likely to live in areas most vulnerable to flooding and other climate change-related weather events. They are also less likely to have the funds to prepare for and recover from extreme weather. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, African American and Hispanic residents were twice as likely as non-Hispanic white individuals to report experiencing an income shock and lack of recovery support.
As President, Biden will stand up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities. He has asked his campaign to commence a process to more deeply engage with environmental justice leaders and develop additional policies related to environmental justice. The policies, to be announced in the weeks ahead, will build on the proposals he has put forward to date:
Reinstate federal protections, rolled back by the Trump Administration, that were designed to protect communities. Biden will make it a priority for all agencies to engage in community-driven approaches to develop solutions for environmental injustices affecting communities of color, low-income, and indigenous communities.
Hold polluters accountable. African American children living in poverty are more likely than wealthier white children to live in a community that borders toxic chemical facilities. Extreme weather can increase the health risks of being co-located with these toxic structures. Under the Trump Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has referred the fewest number of criminal anti-pollution cases to the Justice Department in 30 years. Allowing corporations to continue to pollute – affecting the health and safety of both their workers and surrounding communities – without consequences perpetuates an egregious abuse of power. Failure to reduce emissions disproportionately hurts African American and Hispanic residents who experience 37% higher exposure to nitrogen dioxide (a toxic pollutant) compared to non-Hispanic whites. This leads to an increased rate of premature death due to heart disease. As President, Biden will direct EPA and the Justice Department to pursue these cases to the fullest extent permitted by law and, when needed, seek additional legislation as needed to hold corporate executives personally accountable – including jail time where merited.
Ensure access to safe drinking water for all communities. Biden will make water infrastructure a top priority, for example, by establishing systems to monitor lead and other contaminants in our water supply and take necessary action to eliminate health risks, including holding polluters accountable and support communities in upgrading their systems. In addition, Biden will double federal investments in clean drinking water and water infrastructure, and focus new funding on low-income rural, suburban, and urban areas that are struggling to replace pipes and treatment facilities – and especially on communities at high risk of lead or other kinds of contamination. In addition, Biden will reduce the matching funds required of local governments that don’t have the tax base to be able to afford borrowing to repair their water systems.
Monitor for lead and other contaminants and hold polluters accountable. As President, Biden will also require state and local governments to monitor their water systems for lead and other contaminants, and he will provide them with the resources to do so. Biden will also work with the EPA and the Justice Department to hold companies that pollute our waterways accountable, aggressively enforcing existing regulations and prosecuting any violations. Corporations and their executives cannot break the law and expect to get away with it.
Prioritize communities harmed by climate change and pollution. Low-income communities and communities of color don’t equally share in the benefits of well-paying job opportunities that result from our clean energy economy. As President, Biden will make sure these communities receive preference in competitive grant programs in the Clean Economy Revolution. In addition, Biden will pursue new partnerships with community colleges, unions, and the private sector to develop programs to train all of America’s workforce to tap into the growing clean energy economy; incorporate skills training into infrastructure investment planning by engaging state and local communities; and reinvigorate and repurpose AmeriCorps for sustainability, so that every American can participate in the clean energy economy. We also know that resiliency investments can raise property values and push lower-income families out of their neighborhoods. Climate change mitigation efforts must consciously protect low-income communities from “green gentrification.”
The Women’s Marches that took place across the country – some 250 of them including Washington DC and New York City – are the opening salvo to the 2020 Election. Make no mistake, this was about voting, realizing that all the issues that they care about hinge on the coming election and not on changing the minds of lawmakers who currently control the levers of power: reproductive freedom and a woman’s right to self-determination; access to the ballot and access to health care; climate action and environmental justice; gun safety and domestic violence; gender equity, sexism and misogyny; discrimination and sexual harassment; immigration reform and human rights. They are all on the ballot this November.
And the Supreme Court and all the courts now
dominated by radical right-wing judges that seek to roll back women’s rights,
civil rights, voting rights, health-care-is-a-human-right. “Ruth Bader
Ginsburg, hold on,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer declared as the
march set off down Columbus Avenue, passed the Trump International Hotel, where
the most animated expressions of outrage against Trump and his administration
A singular, unifying message emerged: Dump Trump and
his henchmen and his enablers.
And a theme for the New York City march organized by Women’s March Alliance (womensmarchalliance.org): Rise & Roar.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo did
not come empty-handed to the WorldPride NYC 2019 parade, perhaps the largest
LGBTQIA+ Pride event in history: Cuomo used the occasion to sign into law legislation banning the gay
and trans panic legal defense (S3293/A2707), fulfilling his pledge
to ensure nobody uses this abhorrent legal defense strategy in the State
of New York. The Governor signed the measure, a key component of his 2019
Justice Agenda, on WorldPride and the 50th anniversary of the
Stonewall uprising. The Governor also vowed to double down next legislative
session on his campaign to legalize gestational surrogacy, which the Assembly
failed to take up this year.
“The gay and trans panic defense is essentially a
codification of homophobia and transphobia, and it is repugnant to our values
of equality and inclusion,” Governor Cuomo said at a press
conference on the street before joining the parade. “This
defense strategy isn’t just offensive – it also sends a dangerous message that
violence toward LGBTQ people is somehow OK. It’s not, and today we’re sending
this noxious legal tool to the dustbin of history where it belongs.”
At a press conference before joining the parade, Governor Cuomo said, “What a great, great day
this is. New York is so proud. New York is so, so, so proud to
“New Yorkers are just
New Yorkers. Look, all New Yorkers should be very proud because New York has
always been the home of the LGBTQ equality movement, always. It all started
here. It started at Stonewall, it started when we hosted the first Pride Day
ever. And we’ve kept that legacy alive. This is the leading State in the United
States of America for LGBTQ equality. And we don’t just say it, we do it. We
prove it here in New York.
“What was the first
state to address AIDS and announce the goal of ending AIDS as an epidemic? New
York. What was the first state to end discrimination against transgender
people? New York. What was the first big state to pass marriage equality
and send a message across the nation? New York. What was the first state
to pass GENDA and end discrimination against transgender people? New York.
What was the first state to ban conversion therapy? New York.
“And today, we’re going
to sign a bill that ends the codification of homophobia. Because we have now as
a law in this state, something called the gay and trans panic
defense. That a person can argue – they were so emotionally disturbed when they
found out a person was gay or trans that that is actually a
justification or an excuse for murder. Not in this state. We are going to – not
in this state. Not in this state. Not in this state. Not in this state. Not in
this state. And we are going to end the gay and transpanic defense and we
are going to do it right now. I will sign this now and end this law. It is now
York. Let’s lead once again.”
The gay and trans panic defenses allow those accused of violent
crimes against LGBTQ people to receive a lesser sentence, and in some cases,
avoid conviction, by placing the blame on a victim’s sexual orientation or
gender identity. The passage of this bill would close a loophole in state law
that currently allows individuals to use the gay and trans panic
defenses after attacking another person based upon a perception, or discovery
of, that victim’s gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
Brad Hoylman said,”By banning the so-called gay and trans
panic defense, New York is sending a message to prosecutors, defense attorneys,
juries and judges that a victim’s LGBTQ identity shouldn’t be weaponized
against them. I’m proud to be a member of a legislature that protects the
rights of LGBTQ New Yorkers and thank Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins
and Assemblymember O’Donnell for their leadership on this critical
issue. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, I am extremely
grateful to Governor Cuomo for signing this critical piece of legislation into
law and look forward to continuing to work with him to make New York a more
inclusive, equitable home for the LGBTQ community.”
“In 2013, my daughter Islan was killed in Harlem for being who she was.
Her attacker used the discriminatory ‘trans panic’ defense. I am so grateful
that New York is banning this legislation so that no mother has to go through
this again. We must keep fighting so that all trans people
can live free from violence and discrimination. Thank you to Governor
Cuomo for advocating tirelessly for this bill and for signing it into law
“Banning the “gay
and trans panic” defense in New York is an important and long
overdue step toward treating the LGBTQ community equitably,” Ethan Rice, Senior Attorney,
Fair Courts Project at Lambda Legal. “LGBTQ people in New York should never have to experience
violence. When it happens, LGBTQ people certainly should not be faced with
blame for this violence. These “defenses” have no place in our
justice system. Lambda Legal commends the Governor for signing this bill
today and for his ongoing advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community.”
Executive Director of NYC’s LGBT Community Center said, “New York State government has
taken another great step in the right direction, legally halting some enduring
elements of homophobia and transphobia ingrained in our society. After
establishing marriage equality, passing GENDA and ending conversion therapy in
our state, Governor Cuomo showed that he is not done fighting for LGBTQ
equality, and neither are we. We thank him for taking the gay
and trans panic defense out of New York’s court system and for his
commitment to equal rights for all people.”
individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender as a defense for
violent behavior is abhorrent and will not stand in the State of New York,” Harlem Pride and The NYC Black and Latino
LGBTQ Coalition said. “We applaud Governor Cuomo for his leadership and
dedication to protecting the LGBTQ community and closing the legal loophole
keeping this archaic practice in place.”
Chacon, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of Hispanic
Health Network said,”As we celebrate LGBT Pride and the
50th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising we recognize that outlawing the
gay and trans panic defense is long overdue in New York. We
appreciate that this legislation will be signed to ensure this can never happen
again and that people impacted by homophobia and transphobia are no longer
taking the blame for this antiquated loophole. We thank Governor Cuomo for
advancing this important issue and I look forward to him signing this law to
increase protections for the LGBTQ community.”
Rod Townsend, Community Leader said, “A person’s gender identity or sexual orientation is never a justifiable reason for violent attack, and Governor Cuomo closes the loophole in state law that allowed for it in cases of first degree murder today. We look forward to seeing justice for individuals impacted by these crime and will fight to further limit the use of this appalling “blame the victim” strategy in cases of violence against LGBTQ people everywhere.”
Babine, Director of Policy & Programs at the New York Transgender
Advocacy Group said,”Banning the ‘gay
and trans panic’ defense was a huge win for the LGBTQI community,
especially for our Transgender, Gender-Non-Conforming, & Non-Binary
siblings. This year alone, ten Transgender women of color have been found
dead, one right here in New York. The New York Transgender Advocacy Group
stands with pride next to Governor Cuomo as he continues to be a champion for
the LGBTQI community here in New York State.”
Malloy, Executive Director, Rockland County Pride Center said, “New Yorkers do not tolerate hate. We are
a state of love and inclusion, and hold firm to our belief in equality for
every person. The fact that there ever was a legal defense for crimes committed
against the LGBTQ community, specifically based on their actual or perceived
gender identity or sexual orientation is disgusting. Thank you to Governor
Cuomo for his leadership in ending this abhorrent law, and for always speaking
up and protecting LGBTQ New Yorkers.”
Executive Director, Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance said,”New York State prides itself on being an inclusive,
progressive state, where every person can feel safe and welcome. With
his work to end the gay and trans panic defense, Governor Cuomo
continues to ensure that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or
gender identity, receives equal protection under New York
State law. I wish to personally thank Governor Cuomo, on behalf
of residents in the Adirondack North Country for
his relentless work to defend the rights of all who call this
beautiful state our home.”
Christopher Goodwin, Supervisor of The MOCHA Center Rochester said, “We at The MOCHA Center and Trillium Health applaud Governor Cuomo for taking swift, progressive action to protect and uphold the rights of LGBTQ New Yorkers. Thanks to his efforts, a dangerous loophole rooted in hate has been erased from our criminal justice system. The gay and trans panic defense should never have been allowed. LGBTQ New Yorkers are grateful that we can now feel safer knowing that we are one step closer to having our lives equally valued and represented under the law.”
Jeff Rindler, Executive Director, Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center said, “This revision to our legal system has been long overdue. The human rights of LGBTQ New Yorkers are non-negotiable, and now this hateful excuse will no longer be a permissible defense for homophobic and transphobic hate crimes, which are on the rise. For transgender women of color who experience higher rates of violence, this law is the next step in solidifying protections for our community. I applaud and thankGovernor Cuomo and all the advocates and legislators who worked tirelessly to pass this legislation.”
CEO, GMHC said, “The beginning of the Stonewall rebellion was in New York
City and it was in reaction to hate-fueled actions. Fifty years have passed
since the beginning of our LGBT rights movement and New York has been a model
for LGBT equality, setting a national standard that the rest of the country
must follow. We thank Governor Cuomo for closing a loophole which permitted the
murder of gay and trans New Yorkers due to their perceived sexual
orientation or gender identity. This ensures that justice will be served for LGBTQ
New Yorkers who are the victims of homophobia and transphobia.”
Kristen Prata Browde,
Board President, LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York and
Co-Chair Board of Directors, National Trans Bar Association said,”This shows the kind of change that good government can and
should bring. Banning the trans and gay panic defense is a huge step
towards equality for LGBTQ New Yorkers. Governor Cuomo not only recognized the
absurdity of giving someone a lesser sentence or even a pass after murdering
someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, he fought hard
for the ban. As the Governor signs the bill he is once again showing that New
York truly is a beacon to the world and to every LGBTQ person.”
The Governor also released a new video for social media featuring
Delores Nettles, the mother of Islan Nettles, a transgender woman who
was brutally murdered in Harlem in 2013 and whose assailant used the gay
and trans panic legal defense in court. Watch the video here.
As women rallied across the country in a national
day of action against the rush of abortion bans, New York City said New York
State would become a sanctuary and the city would seek to create a fund to help
women who cannot afford to obtain abortion services.
Hundreds turned out in downtown Manhattan across from the US Court Building at a rally to #StopTheBans – the epidemic of increasingly draconian anti-abortion legislation designed to force the Supreme Court to render a new decision they believe will overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade which established that women have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy up until the time the fetus was viable outside the womb, 24 weeks. Many states not only put significant barriers that have forced clinics to close, chipping away at the “undue burden” provision that has endured subsequent Supreme Court scrutiny, leaving only one or two clinics in a state, but all but 15 states deny Medicaid funding to cover abortions, while many private insurance companies also do not cover abortion services.
“A right without true access is merely a privilege,”
said New York Abortion Access Fund’s Maddy Durante.
At the federal level, Republicans in Congress have
tried multiple times to end funding to Planned Parenthood despite the Hyde
Amendment’s prohibition of any federal funds to be spent on abortion services,
is . Now, the Trump Administration is allowing private insurers to offer
policies that do not cover maternity care, dismissing the rising rates of
maternal mortality, especially among minorities and lower income women, as
Trump reverses the gains in access to care made under Obamacare.
But though New York State’s recently adopted
Reproductive Health Act not only allows for abortions beyond 24 weeks of
gestation in cases where the mother’s life is at risk or the fetus is not
viable, and also expands the professionals authorized to conduct abortions to
certain physicians assistants, nurses and midwives, if the Supreme Court adopts
the concept of fetal personhood, as these new extreme laws propose, that could
jeopardize the legality of abortions everywhere.
That is a reason that many of the speakers at the
Tuesday Stop the Bans Day of Action rally in New York called for a renewed rise
in a nationwide movement to protect reproductive freedom, and insisted, “We are
not going back.”
Here are highlights from the rally:
“From Alabama to Ohio, extremist politicians are
trying to ban safe, legal abortions,” declared Leann Risk, associate director,
community organizing for Planned Parenthood, NYC. “Activists in all 50 states are engaged in a massive
show of strength. We will not stand for the bans, not now, not ever, no way.”
President and CEO Of Planned Parenthood NYC, declared, “We say to delusional politicians, stop the
abortion bans. ..We are facing a sick attempt to strip us of fundamental
humanity and autonomy. This is a coordinated attempt to drive care underground,
to force a showdown in the Supreme Court…
“Fact: 73% of Americans do not want to overturn Roe;
nearly one in four women in the United States will have an abortion in her
“These are not lawmakers, but lawbreakers, trying to
dismantle rights we have had for nearly five decades. We won’t stand for
blatant injustice against our reproductive rights. Abortion is the law of the
land – legal today, will be legal tomorrow, as long as Planned Parenthood
(which has existed over 103 years) and ACLU and so many others exist.”
NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer declared, “It’s time
for NYC to become the first in the nation to directly fund abortion care –
guarantee access to abortion regardless of the ability to pay.” He is
advocating a New York City Abortion Access Fund.
Gloria Allred, the high-profile attorney, revealed
her own terrifying experience, nearly bleeding to death when she was in her 20s
because of a back alley abortion after being raped at gunpoint.
“As I lay hemorrhaging in a bathtub, [the
abortionist] said, ‘It’s your problem now.’ Back then, the only time you would
be admitted to a hospital is if you were bleeding to death. I was running 106
degree fever. I was put in a ward with others suffering after an illegal
abortion” where the patients were shamed.
“The nurse told me, ‘This should teach you a
lesson,’” Allred said. “It taught me a lesson all right: abortion should be
safe, legal, affordable and accessible!
“We will never allow abortion to be criminalized
again.. No elected official has the right to make a choice for us. Resist.
Insist. Persist. Elect Pro Choice candidates.”
New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, said, “The
bans are about control. The people pushing the bans are chipping away at our
rights…We cannot be silent. Women are more than half the population. We will
tell [these politicians] ‘Women brought you into this world and women can take
you out [pause] of office. We will march, organize, donate and vote.”
She was soon joined by Mayor Bill DiBlasio who said,
“New York respects women. We are not going back. This is a fight for our lives.
We know women will die because of these laws. We know the American people will
support freedom of women. The rights of women matter most.”
Eve Ensler playwright, performer, feminist, and activist, best known for her play “The Vagina Monologues,” shared her own experience getting an abortion. “That abortion was the smartest thing I have done…. Tell that predator-in-chief and those misogynists, ‘Get your invasive, violent hands off our bodies. Our vaginas, uterus, minds are out of the bottle and we ain’t going fucking back. My body, my choice. Are you up for the fight?”
“We are here because we are outraged,” said Andrea Miller, president and CEO of the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH). “These anti-abortion extremists tell women they can’t be trusted to make our own decisions. They don’t believe we should have the right to control our bodies, our families, our futures. That we are not able to choose our destiny. We say no. The decision whether, when, with whom to have children belongs to us, not politicians.
“New York State passed the Reproductive Health Act.
We knew what was coming, coming for our rights. We aren’t just seeing things go
back. We are partnering with people moving forward. New York is not done if
reproductive rights are not accessible, affordable.”
The NIRH is partnering with New York City on the
first Abortion Action Campaign Fund – seeking $250,000 in the city’s budget to
fund abortion care for those who cannot afford it. Call the City Council to
“We know our health, our lives, our futures depends
on stopping the bans. Make sure abortion is safe, legal, accessible,
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer urged
support for the city to pass the funding. “To say we’re livid is an
understatement… [The impact of these fetal personhood bills means] that a
woman who suffers a miscarriage could be in the middle of a criminal investigation.
Before Roe, women died, now abortion is one of the safest medical procedures
that can be performed.
“A frigging tough fight is ahead but we will never
back down,” she declared, prompting chants of “Won’t go back. Won’t go back.”
Clara Williams, a Planned Parenthood patient,
related how difficult, how complicated and how personal the decision to seek an
abortion is. At the time of her abortion, she was very young, her partner had
left her, she did not feel she could properly care for a child.
“That is a decision no one can make for you, least
of all a politician,” she said. “The rash of bans sweeping the nation, to force
a showdown with the Supreme Court, make abortion inaccessible to communities of
color, people of low income. Banning doesn’t end abortion, just marginalizes
“Abortion is nobody’s business. Whatever the reason,
it is not undertaken flippantly. But what kind of life is it if we aren’t the
authority, don’t have the right, to control our own destiny?”
“Abortion is necessary health care, and health care
is a human right. Punishing those who provide health care, the doctors, is
inhumane and cruel.”
Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties
Union said, “We won’t let them turn the 21st century into Handmaid’s
Tale. It is ironic that those who would ban abortion claim to care about life,
but Georgia has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country, Alabama has
the highest infant mortality rate. If they cared about life, they would be
expanding health care, not making it a crime.
“I am fortunate to live in New York. New York has
stepped up to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which codifies Roe, protects
New York from criminals led by the philanderer-in-chief and his sanctimonious
minions. He may have stacked the court, but we won’t let them turn back the
The ACLU is mounting legal challenges in Georgia and
“We will tell the philanderer in chief, ‘We’ll see
you in court.’”
The vast majority – almost three out of four Americans
– support a woman’s right to choose and preserving Roe, and they vote.
“We know New York supports women’s right to control
their own bodies. We rallied to make New York a sanctuary city against the
Trump crusade against immigrants. We must also be a sanctuary for women. Thanks
to the effort of the ACLU and others, abortion is legal in all 50 states and we
have stopped the bans [from being enacted] so far. New York City, New York
State must be a sanctuary..”
But even though New York State was one of the first
to legislate reproductive rights, before the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, the laws
were still surprisingly repressive, criminalizing abortion after 24 weeks.
Garin Marshall related his experience when he and his wife learned at 30 weeks that the fetus she was carrying, “a baby that was very much wanted”, was not viable. “We were denied care in New York State [because of the 24-week ban].” But they had the means to seek services elsewhere. Nonetheless, their experience helped change the law in New York, passing the Reproductive Health Act.
“Abortion was the right choice for our family.
People are deserving of autonomy, dignity, respect,” Marshall said.
But, he argued, this is not just women’s issue. Men
have much at stake as well, for the women in their lives they love, and their
“Men benefit from access to legal, safe, affordable
abortion. Men created this problem, especially white men, who held on to power
and used it. Good men who do nothing have allowed this situation…This is our
problem, too. The house is on fire, but it is our house.
“Fight for access to abortion throughout pregnancy,
with no person left behind.”
Councilmember Helen Rosenthal, who has been fighting
for abortion rights for 20 years, declared, “We can’t let these men who have no
idea what they’re talking about get away with this crap.
“I used to walk around with a necklace with a
hangar. We won’t go back, but only if we become a movement. Abortion access
Planned Parenthood of NY Chief Medical Officer Ila Dayananda, “This is an attack on all of
us. Under these laws, the fact a doctor can receive jail time for providing
service is horrific. One in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
Health care is a fundamental human right.
“There is no banning abortion, only banning safe,
legal abortion. These bans particularly hurt women of color, low income. They
should receive nothing less than compassion, expert health care, and to be able
to make the decision for themselves. There are many complicated factors in this
decision. People deserve to be empowered to make their own decision.
“We won’t go back. Smash the patriarchy.”
[Poster: Keep your filthy laws off my silky drawers]
New York Abortion Access Fund’s Maddy Durante urged
financial support for those in New York seeking abortion.
“Abortion access is out of reach for many for a long
time – both financial and legal access. If private insurance doesn’t cover an
abortion, it is a potentially astronomical cost. Often, people can’t use
insurance because of privacy and safety, because they fear partner violence.
“Our clients are immigrants, people living in
affordable housing, undergoing family separation, parents and caregivers, and increasingly,
people traveling to New York. They may have Medicaid but many states don’t
allow Medicaid coverage for abortions.”
She said her organization has already provided
assistance to 590 people through grass roots fundraising.
“Care has been inaccessible for a long time. A right
without true access is merely a privilege. Petition the City Council to fund
[Poster: I wish my uterus shot bullets, so the government wouldn’t regulate it.]
Director of Operations for Black Lives Matter, NYC,
Shaavronna Newsome. “People imposing bans are hiding behind Christianity, but
this is really about declining birthrate, capitalism, patriarchy. I am grateful
to be in New York where I can choose.”
Celia Petty, a founding member of NYC for Abortion
Rights, told how she has had three abortions in her life – the first when she
was very young and had just broken up with her boyfriend. “This was the 1970s.
I wasn’t capable of raising a child. I was afraid I would regret. But I was
relieved that I could wait until ready.”
Her second was when she found she was pregnant with
a six month old baby (don’t believe you can’t get pregnant if you are nursing).
“I was trying to work full time and still care for a new baby. I couldn’t
The third time was again, despite using birth
control, when she got pregnant with a 10-month old baby in the house. “I had to
work to make ends meet. An abortion saved my life,” she says as her young
granddaughter, clings to her leg as she speaks at the podium.
“A lot of women have abortions out of more desperate
An active founding member of New York for Abortion Rights, she said, “We seek full reproductive justice, the right to bear children in a safe, healthy environment. We want a grass roots movement to demand reproductive freedom – the right to control our bodies and our lives.”
That prompts the chant: “Without this basic right, women can’t be free.
Abortion on demand, without apology.”
The New Yorkers who
rallied in front of the US Courthouse in downtown Manhattan, were among tens of
thousands of people gathered at more than 500 events in all 50 states, DC, and
Puerto Rico on the Stop the Bans Day of Action.
Abigail Adams, writing to her husband, John Adams, a Congressman at the time, in March 1776, warned, “Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” That revolution clearly is still going on, despite finally getting the right to vote 144 years later and nearly a century ago.
Even after women staged the biggest protest in history exactly a year ago, swamping Washington DC and coming out by the hundreds of thousands in cities and hamlets across the country, Republicans did not get the message, but spent their first year in total control of all the levers of government systematically dismantling all the elements of a free and equal society, and specifically, waging a war on women’s rights, health and security.
Republicans went full throttle to attack women’s reproductive rights – the House has already passed a 20-week ban on abortion which is set to go to the Senate and is guaranteed of Trump’s signature, while dismantling health clinics.
“The threat for women—and reproductive freedom—is greater than ever,” writes Ilyse Hogue, President, NARAL Pro-Choice America. “The consequences of this bill becoming law would be gut-wrenching. Women seek abortion care after 20 weeks for a variety of reasons, including medical problems, difficulty accessing care, and the fear that comes with rape, incest, and abuse.” The bill makes it a crime for a doctor to perform or attempt an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for a woman’s health. The bill would leave a woman—and her healthcare provider—with no safe and legal option.
And hidden in the 429-page Republican Tax Law is a provision that establishes “personhood” by giving legal rights to a fetus for the purposes of college savings accounts. “That might seem innocuous, but once that legal precedent is established, it’s a short step to banning abortion outright.”
Let’s be clear: women’s reproductive rights are not just about the freedom to make choices about one’s body, but one’s future. It is nothing less than the right to self-determination which men claim. It is about Equal Protection under the Constitution. If men have a right to life and liberty, so do women and nothing less. Men don’t require government authorization to get a vasectomy or take Viagra (covered under health insurance). And women should not be made less of a person, less of a citizen than a zygote, with government as its unappointed “Regent”.
“It took us a while to figure out,” Gloria Steinem said in an interview with The Guardian, “but patriarchy – or whatever you want to call it, the systems that say there’s masculine and feminine and other bullshit – is about controlling reproduction. Every economics course ought to start not with production but with reproduction. It is way more important.”
The tax code Trump and the Republicans are so proud of attacks everything that makes the American Dream possible, and everything that women count on for their families. Republicans have yet to reauthorize CHIP, leaving 9 million children and pregnant women without access to health care. And what of that child after the Republicans compel its birth? They are stripping away access to child care, pre-K, health care, special education. Now Republicans will go use the mounting budget deficit – $1 trillion – because of their tax plan, to go after Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid, food stamps and welfare – things that women, who live longer but have lower earnings throughout their working lives, or who are more apt to be single parents – depend on to a greater degree than men. (To see what a pro-Woman agenda would look like, read what Governor Cuomo is proposing.)
Not to mention Trump’s executive actions and his appointments to EPA, Interior, Education, Health & Human Services, Energy and the judiciary who are enacted policies that harm women and families, climate and public health.
In each and every category of concern to women: health care, immigration, climate change and environmental justice, domestic violence and gun violence prevention, criminal justice. Trump, who through words and actions has shown nothing but contempt for women, and the Republicans have sent a big F-U to women.
Republicans after the 2017 women’s marches, felt they were safe, that women would just forgive and forget, go away, be too consumed with the pressures of earning a living wage to keep their family with food and shelter, than to be politically active.
Indeed, the furor of last year’s Women’s March was quickly dissipated over addressing the Outrage Du Jour: Travel Ban, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, unleashing ICE to round up undocumented immigrants, gun massacres of historic scale, horror over the government’s failure to address the climate catastrophe Puerto Rico, efforts to repeal Obamacare, then the tax code.
But then there was the #MeToo movement. I can only imagine that the furor has some quaking at the new-found power of Womanhood (but also fear that overuse, amounting to a Salem Witchhunt, will result in a backlash).
This year’s protests are different because 2018 will be the first significant opportunity for voters to take consequential action at the polls. That’s why these protests are so much more important than a year ago.
“[Last year] we marched for even bigger, more systemic issues. We marched because 1 in 4 women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime (as well as 1 in 6 men). Women make up half of the country but only 19% of Congress. Women earn 79 cents to a man’s dollar, and that percentage drops to 63 cents for Black women and 54 cents for Latina women. And there are more anti-abortion laws on the books now than at any time since Roe v. Wade,” writes Caitlin Alesio Maloney, Director of Campaign Operations & Technology.
“None of the issues went away in 2017, but we are seeing progress. #MeToo was a breakout movement that is bringing about real change. Emily’s List had 920 women interested in running for office in 2016, but 16,000 women reached out to them to run in 2017. And with the Women’s March Power to the Polls project launching the day after the anniversary marches, we know this movement can make the difference and get them elected in 2018,” she stated.
“We need to show up for #MeToo. For Time’s Up. For women’s reproductive rights. For equal pay. And we need to show up to remind Donald Trump, on the anniversary of his inauguration, that We. Will. Always. Resist.”
These are the issues but here is the action: March Into Action will be registering voters at the march to support a national effort to register 1 million women to vote by the 2018 elections.