On Juneteenth and every day: Black lives matter, Black citizens matter, Black families matter
By Elizabeth Warren
Galveston, Texas erupted when the news of freedom finally arrived more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. That day — June 19, 1865 — is known as Juneteenth: the annual and oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. But Juneteenth isn’t just about celebration. It’s a necessary reminder that 154 years later, Black Americans still feel the weight of government-sponsored racism and discrimination on their shoulders.
Our country needs big, structural change to confront the tools of oppression Black Americans still face today. One of these tools of oppression is violence. Our Black friends, family, and neighbors fear dying in the streets. The vast majority of police officers sign up so they can protect their communities. But we also know — and must say — the names of those whose lives have been cut down by bullets or had the air choked out of them by those who are sworn to protect them: Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Mya Hall, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Korryn Gaines, Alton Sterling, and so many more. In our country, hate crimes are on the rise — and White supremacists pose a threat to the United States like any other terrorist group. Just two days ago, we mourned the 4th anniversary of the terrorism that took place at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The next tools of oppression are an unequal democracy and an unequal justice system. Racist politicians have used racist voter suppression laws to steal votes from people of color. Partisan gerrymandering is letting politicians pick their voters instead of the other way around. A real democracy requires equal justice under law. It’s not equal justice in America when a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s not equal justice in America when, for the exact same crimes, Black Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be sentenced.
Another tool of oppression has been deliberately denying millions of Black Americans economic opportunities solely because of the color of their skin. For decades the federal government discriminated against Black families by denying them access to the same federal housing subsidies that white families received to purchase a home . And while that practice no longer exists, the gap between white homeownership rates and Black homeownership rates is about 30% — bigger than it was when housing discrimination was legal. Government-sponsored discrimination also kept Black Americans out of higher education, even as the federal government and state governments poured money into colleges that served almost exclusively white students.
But calling out these systemic inequalities is not enough. We need a plan to beat them down. To safeguard communities from police brutality, we need to make policing a truly community endeavor — not in just a few cities, but everywhere. Police forces should reach out to support and defend the community — working with people in neighborhoods before problems arise. All police forces must be trained on de-escalation tactics to avoid the likelihood of violence, and we need to demilitarize our local police forces. We also need real criminal justice reform. That means ending racial disparities in our justice system. It means banning private prisons. It means comprehensive sentencing reform and rewriting our laws to decriminalize marijuana.
To make our democracy work for everyone, we need a constitutional amendment guaranteeing every United States citizen the right to vote and have that vote counted. We need to pass a Voting Rights Act with real teeth, work to overturn every racist voter suppression law, and end partisan gerrymandering. It’s time we get rid of the Electoral College and elect our presidents with a national popular vote. Election day should be a holiday and voter registration should be automatic. We must expand early voting and vote by mail so no one has to choose between a paycheck and exercising their right to vote. We need to fight back against efforts to deny the right to vote to people who have served their time in prison and are trying to take care of themselves and their loved one.
To ensure Black Americans have the opportunity to build wealth and build a future, we need to confront the racial wealth gap head on. Because the government bears a big part of the blame for creating this gap, the government should take real steps to fix it. My plan for affordable housing takes a first step by providing assistance to first-time homebuyers who live in formerly redlined neighborhoods or communities that were segregated by law. I also have a plan for universal free public college and the cancellation of student loan debt for 95% of Americans who carry it. My plan was specifically designed to help close the Black-white wealth gap, and it also includes a minimum $50 billion fund for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions — finally making the investments in these institutions that they deserve. I also have a proposal for a $7 billion Small Business Equity Fund to provide grants — not loans — to level the playing field for Black and Brown entrepreneurs.
I will never understand the fear, oppression, and pain that confronts many Black Americans every day. We can’t ignore what is happening in this country. Today on Juneteenth, and every day, we can — and must — do better. Black lives matter, Black citizens matter, Black families matter.