The Congressional Black Caucus on Thursday demanded to meet with top federal law enforcement officials after two black men were fatally shot by police within days of each other and the videos of their deaths sparked national outrage.
At a news conference on Thursday, Rep. Jim Clyburn became emotional as he spoke about having to give his 21-year old grandson advice about what to do if police stops him at a traffic light.
“You’ve got to deny your manhood if you want to ensure that you come home alive,” the South Carolina Democrat said he told him, lifting up his hands in disgust. “That is the kind of conversation I ought not to be having with my grandson.”
I was not a newly elected member of Congress. I was a black guy that they did not feel safe to be associated with.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.
Black lawmakers spoke out after the deaths of Alton Sterling, who was filmed being held down by police and shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday, and Philando Castile, who was killed during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Wednesday while his girlfriend live-streamed it on Facebook.
“Black lives do matter. And we here in the Congress must mature enough, grow up enough, to have the kinds of adult discussions about the issues that plague us as a country,” Clyburn said on Thursday, visibly frustrated.
The group is asking to meet with federal law enforcement officials including U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey.
Another member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., seized the opportunity to address Comey on live television during a high-profile hearing about Hillary Clinton’s private email server on Thursday
“As an African-American man in this country, 66 years old, moving towards the twilight of my life, we cannot allow black men to be continue to be slaughtered,” he told the FBI director, saying that morning he had woken up to his wife crying while watching the tape of Sterling’s shooting.
“Mr. Director, if you do nothing else in your 2,000-plus days left, you have got to help us get a hold of this issue,” he said, as a grim-faced Comey nodded. “It is so painful, I can’t even begin to tell you.”
Clyburn said that nothing will improve until lawmakers acknowledge and open a dialogue about the role that racism plays in these police-involved shootings.
It’s down South, it’s up North, it’s East Coast, it’s West Coast, it’s Midwest. It’s a national problem, and African-Americans have the right to enjoy the full protection of the law.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.
“The reason we can’t solve this race question is because we won’t talk about it. We pretend it doesn’t exist,” he said at Thursday’s press conference. “We know it does.”
Clyburn spoke about a personal experience he had the morning after he was elected to Congress, in November 1992, when two men refused to get into an elevator with him at the City Club in Columbia, South Carolina.
“Newly elected to Congress, I was reminded on the morning afterwards of who and what I was,” said Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat. “I was not a newly elected member of Congress. I was a black guy that they did not feel safe to be associated with.”
Other members of the Congressional Black Caucus agreed.
“As these incidents again remind us, racism is alive and well in America,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, R-La., who represents the district where Sterling was killed, said it “should not matter what you look like or where you live.”
“We have an obligation as the very few African-Americans in this country that have the ability to talk on the House floor, introduce legislation . . . to speak up and take their voices from the streets to the halls of Congress, to the White House, to the Justice Department and everywhere else where they should be,” he said.