Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives today regarding the state of race relations in our country. Byrne called upon Congress to reveal our national character by uniting to pass meaningful and bipartisan law enforcement reform legislation. Byrne is anoriginal cosponsor of the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act originally introduced in the Senate by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC).
Congressman Byrne said: “I’ve spoken out against racism from this floor before but under the present regrettable circumstances I feel compelled to do so again.
“All of us are created in the image of God and are of equal and inestimable moral worth. All of us. There are no exceptions. Both St. Peter and St. Paul spoke out against prejudice. Our Declaration of Independence states plainly that we are all created equal. Our laws require equality of treatment and opportunity.
“It is a fact that we betrayed this ideal when our country was founded when we tolerated slavery, an immoral human practice which in this country was carried out by whites against blacks. It took nearly 90 years after our founding to erase this blot when we passed the 13th Amendment. It also took a civil war which cost 600,000 lives.
“Even then we didn’t grant black people true equality. For the next 100 years they endured Jim Crow laws in the South, de facto segregation in the rest of the country, violence, and inequality in everything from schools to jobs. They had to win equality for themselves by bravely marching, protesting, and using every peaceful method they could find in the Civil Rights Movement. They gradually won key court cases. And, finally, this House and the Senate passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act.
“But laws don’t change hearts, and we are still walking the path toward ridding this nation of the scourge of racism. As I have watched COVID work its will in my district I have been distraught to see its disproportionate effect on the health and lives of the 1/3 of my constituents who are black, on black workers and business owners who suddenly and through no fault of their own lost their jobs and businesses, and on black children who lost months of their education which they badly need..
“The Chief of Police in Mobile, the urban center of my district, is Lawrence Battiste, a 27-year veteran of law enforcement, and yes, a black man. We had a Sunday afternoon of protests a few weeks ago and I watched as he, and the officers under his direction, carried out their duties with professionalism and character. Character. I use that word because it’s so important right now, and because I have long admired Dr. King’s statement that we shouldn’t be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.
“I’m proud of Chief Battiste and his officers, but they aren’t the only professionals performing their duties under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and with character. There are many, many law enforcement officers around this country who are truly public servants, and they deserve our respect and our support.
“We in this House can disagree on the appropriate policies to pursue to achieve justice and right the wrong of continuing inequality. But, there is no disagreement that racism is wrong, is morally repugnant. And there is also no disagreement that doing nothing in the face of continuing racism isn’t acceptable.
“We in this House need to work together, not in parallel partisan efforts. This House came together to pass the CARES Act earlier this year. Surely, we can come together to pass meaningful and bipartisan law enforcement reform legislation that will actually go to the President and become law. I wish we would address more funding for community health centers so that poor people, and especially people of color, would have better access to primary care which should help equalize health outcomes. I also wish we would take up education choice legislation so that minority children have the same opportunities for quality education as their peers from families with the means to pay for better schools.
“We’re capable of so much more in this country but only if we remember that one of the stated purposes of our Constitution is to “create a more perfect union.” That’s not a one and done thing, it’s a generation after generation thing. It’s time to unite in this body and do the hard work of this generation. Let’s do it for the Lawrence Battistes out there. Let’s do it for our children and grandchildren. And let’s do it because that will reveal the content of our national character, which is far more important than the color of our skins.