By Sean Callahan and Russell Glass
Laws protecting Black Americans — just like they protect every other American — exist. The question is, why aren’t they enforced?
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discriminations based on race, religion, or sex. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 bans racial discrimination at the ballot box. And, of course, our laws make it illegal for a police officer to murder a Black person, and it is a stain on our country that we actually have to remind anyone of this fact.
The United States didn’t always recognize the rights of Black people. The Constitution counted enslaved Black people as three-fifths of a person; the Homestead Act of the 19th century provided free land to settlers but largely excluded Black people; and even the G.I. Bill, passed in the wake of World War II, accommodated Jim Crow laws.
These days, however, U.S. laws at least give lip service to the concept of equal rights. But right now, many of our current leaders lack the will or the desire to enforce these laws. In fact, many government officials actively work to undermine these laws.
The only way to change this situation is to change our leaders. Despite the attention drawn by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the nation, the only way to get new leaders is for all of us to vote on Nov. 3 for politicians who will enforce the laws that protect all of us.
Our current administration is rolling back civil rights protections. Some examples: executive orders banning immigration from Muslim countries, the weakening of LGBTQ protections, and cutting back on voting protections. The U.S. Supreme Court, for instance, neutered the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder. In the wake of the ruling, local officials have shuttered hundreds of polling places from Alabama to Wisconsin, with many of the closures in Black communities.
Nowhere is the effort to undermine existing laws more evident than in the removal of oversight on local police departments. President Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, gutted the Department of Justice’s use of consent decrees, a powerful tool to rein in local police departments accused of brutality.
The president himself has also demonstrated a callous disregard for police misconduct. For instance, in a Tweet earlier this year, the president encouraged police brutality: “When the looting starts the shooting starts.”
His encouragement of such actions is nothing new. In 2017, he joked about police brutality during a speech to law enforcement officers, telling the group: “When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head you know, the way you put their hand over [their head]. Like, ‘Don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head.’ I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?’”
Perhaps encouraged by Trump’s signals, district attorneys often don’t charge police officers when citizens have died in their custody or when video evidence indicates that excessive force has been used. Too many sheriffs and police unions protect officers repeatedly accused of abusing suspects. And too many judges throw out homicide and brutality cases against police officers.
The demonstrations in all 50 states protesting the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have shown that a powerful urge to protect the civil rights of all Americans still exists in this country. Now, with the same unity, the next step is for all of us to march to our polling places on Election Day and cast ballots for the politicians who will protect the rights and the lives of the most vulnerable and the most threatened.
On Nov. 3, we must vote to put leaders in the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and state and local offices who will enforce the laws we already have on the books that protect our civil rights, prevent voter disenfranchisement, and prohibit police brutality.
Remember in his 2016 campaign when President Trump urged African Americans to vote for him? “What have you got to lose?” he asked.
It turns out the answer is, “Everything.”
Vote on Nov. 3 like your life depends on it. It just might.