WASHINGTON, D.C., January 22, 2015 – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) has been fighting for racial justice and equality for over 50 years since its 1963 founding at the request of President John F. Kennedy. The Lawyers’ Committee issues the following statement commending President Obama for including some key civil and human rights matters during his Tuesday evening State of the Union address, but stress “as we turn the page”, we must still vigorously work to uplift those communities that still lag behind, particularly the African American community.
President Obama’s report to Congress is an opportunity to address the country’s most pressing issues and his legislative agenda for the year ahead. The Lawyers’ Committee is pleased that the President discussed critical civil and human rights issues including the economy as it relates to jobs and employment, education, voting rights, criminal justice reform, gender equality, and immigration reform. We agree that progress has been made and appreciate the President’s emphasis on “bolstering middle class families.” “Still, we know that more needs to be done to equalize the playing field for all Americans,” said Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive Director Barbara Arnwine. To date, although overall unemployment rates have improved, the unemployment rate for African Americans remains in the double digits. The elimination of this gap must be an ongoing priority. Further, we continue to urge through both Executive and Congressional action, the elimination of barriers to employment such as discriminatory practices regarding credit and background checks and arrest records. We strongly believe that for any economic recovery to be effective for all communities, that such barriers cannot be ignored.
President Obama recognized the need to increase access to better paying jobs by seeking to improve job training and eliminating the cost for community colleges. “This is an excellent proposal that we encourage all states to adopt,” stated Public Policy Director Tanya Clay House. “Such proactive measures are what this country needs to enable people, regardless of their socio-economic status, to attend college and obtain a quality post-secondary education that can uplift their entire family.”
As President Obama noted, as we approach the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma, we need to “to make voting easier for every single American.” It is imperative that members of Congress make this a priority by passing the Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. 50 years later, voting should not be this hard.
As evidenced by the tragedies in Ferguson, New York, Ohio and cities nationwide, this past year has been a tumultuous year for race in America as unarmed black men, women and youth continue to be killed or brutalized by police officers. The situations in Ferguson and other cities across America have brought to light, yet again, the inequality that exists in this nation. In particular, the severe disparities in our broken criminal justice system have created serious obstacles for African Americans in our country. For example, African Americans are incarcerated nearly six times more than whites. Nationwide, African-Americans represent 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons. “The creation of the White House task force on 21st Century Policing Reform is a positive first step toward dealing with the problems in our policing structure, but of course Congressional action is still needed to make long term systemic reform. I look forward to the President speaking more forcefully about the need to combat these issues in future speeches” noted Ms. Arnwine.
Until we confront and address the systemic structures that maintain the old vestiges of racial segregation and de-humanization in this country we will not be able to realize a truly just and equal society. The Lawyers’ Committee looks forward to working with Congress and President Obama in working to create fair and just legislation and reforms to ensure that each American has equal access to opportunity in our society.