Members of the Congressional Black Caucus say they are outraged at the decisions of grand juries in New York and Missouri against indicting the white police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and they want to invite the slain men's families to next month's State of the Union address.
“I think that would be appropriate and fitting,” Georgia Democrat Rep. John Lewis, a long-time civil rights leader said, reports The Hill
. "It would help educate and sensitize other members and humanize some of the issues that we're going to confront.”
The lawmakers believe that bringing the men's relatives to President Barack Obama's speech will send a signal that Washington is ready to tackle the nation's criminal justice issues, and Georgia Democrat Rep. Hank Johnson commented that the families "are symbols of an issue that needs to be urgently addressed in America."
The family members have not yet been invited to the president's speech, but Black Caucus members believe that doing so would emphasize the need for criminal justice reform.
"It would be good that we put a face to the injustices that have occurred as a result of the criminal justice system that hasn't been lifted to a point of colorblindness," New York Democrat Rep. Yvette Clarke said.
Garner, 43, died in July after New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo used a chokehold while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes on the street. Garner's death — which happened as he was telling the officer that he could not breathe — was captured on cellphone video and seen across the nation.
The next month, white Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown, 18, during a confrontation.
Grand juries in both incidents determined that there was no cause to indict either police officer, which brought protests across the country, with heavy rioting and looting in Ferguson.
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, last month called the grand jury decision in the Brown case "a slap in the face" and a "miscarriage of justice," reports Politico
“This decision seems to underscore an unwritten rule that black lives hold no value; that you may kill black men in this country without consequences or repercussions,” Fudge said in a statement. "This is a frightening narrative for every parent and guardian of black and brown children, and another setback for race relations in America."
Obama has called for new policies on law enforcement, and the issues may be broached in the State of the Union address.
On Thursday, the president acknowledged that "too many Americans feel deep unfairness" when it comes to how laws are applied.
Lawmakers are meeting with the families of the slain men, Missouri Democrat Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said, and he believes they will be invited to the speech, and Rep. Lacy Clay, the Democrat representing the Brown family's home district, said it would be a good idea to invite them.
Representatives get one guest ticket each for the speech, but some are saying that Obama should extend the invitations himself.
Lawmakers who support the police in the cases have been saying that they support the grand juries' decisions. In New York, GOP Rep. Peter King said Garner's medical conditions and obesity were responsible for his death, not the police.
But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Thursday called the deaths of Brown and Garner "serious tragedies" and noted that he is open to Congress holding hearings in the matter.
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