Conyers Remarks at “NFL Players Speak Up: First-Hand Experiences Building Community Trust”
For the better part of two decades, the relationship between African-American communities and their police departments across the nation have hovered in a state of volatility, awaiting a single incident to combust. These tensions have grown as allegations of bias-based policing by law enforcement agents, sometimes supported by data collection efforts and video evidence, have increased in number and frequency.
While the current wave of national attention was triggered by the controversial shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, the sensibilities of the nation have also been shocked by other high-profile police-involved shootings of more than 30 unarmed African-American and Latino men. Overall more than 250 African-American men were killed in police incidents in 2016.
Against this backdrop, these same communities have been ground zero in the so-called War on Drugs. There is bipartisan agreement that our nation has a crisis of over-incarceration, with 2.2 million people imprisoned in this country. One of the main reasons for this catastrophic level of incarceration is the use of mandatory minimum sentencing, which often imposes sentences that are not appropriate for the facts and culpability of individual cases.
Once released, these people face the prison-after-prison, where they can experience both housing and employment discrimination due to their criminal records. These burden can be so great that over half are re-incarcerated within three years of their release. All of this disproportionately impacts African Americans and is a major factor impacting the quality of life in our families and communities.
The rise of activism triggered by the racial disparities in our criminal justice system has touched diverse parts of our communities. Harkening back to the civil rights era of the 1960's, people have taken to the streets to proclaim that black lives matter and to seek justice for those who have died.
Today we are joined by members of the National Football League. This is the second Hill visit by NFL players and we look forward to building further links with the NFL Players Association to raise awareness around our Justice Agenda. As we recognize the price that some of your colleagues are paying for their activism, we note that your appearance here is meaningful – and not without risk to your livelihood. Ultimately, I believe that your activism will inspire other to raise their voices for justice. Let no one make the mistake of believing that the search of for justice in America is anything less than an act of patriotism.