We learn about the dark chapters of history in an effort to not repeat them. Many of us attempt to shine a light on those dark chapters to show how far we have progressed on the path toward justice.
During my first term as a Congresswoman, I was honored to serve alongside the late, great and beloved U.S. Rep. John Lewis. Often our discussions reminded me of the powerful history of Freedom Riders of the 1960s. They were a multi-racial coalition of people from all backgrounds guided by young Black leaders, pushing for systemic change and for racial justice. They were met with disdain and violence — attacked and arrested by police, vilified as “outside agitators” and “aggressors.” They were systematically dehumanized.
We surely do not want to repeat that history of repression — but we are. Indeed, much of what the Freedom Riders had to endure is what the folks organizing with Detroit Will Breathe who have been marching for justice for days and counting are having to endure as well.
As someone who was born and raised in the city of Detroit, it is an honor to tell folks that I am from a place that has been at the epicenter of movements for change. Our city served as the last stop in the U.S. for the Underground Railroad. We helped birth the labor movement and our unions. It’s where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came, joined by Rev. C.L. Franklin, in one of the largest marches in the history of our city.
We look back on this march as a pivotal, powerful moment in the Civil Rights Movement. More than 125,000 protestors, neighbors, and folks from outside of Detroit joined to push for an end to racist polices, segregation, and police brutality.
Doesn’t this sound familiar?
It is as disturbing as it is heartbreaking that in 2020, in a city where every corner is a reminder of those fights for racial, economic and social justice, city and police leaders are meeting protesters with violence and intimidating rhetoric meant to turn the public against our own young people who are demanding a better future for us all.
One egregious example was seen in a photo of a protest leader, a young Black woman, in a chokehold by an officer during a protest. Folks are being physically harmed, ticketed, and humiliated simply for exercising their First Amendment rights in the name of a righteous cause.
We must not lose sight of why our young leaders are rising up. We must transform what is currently an injustice system — from predatory and unfair cash bail practices to underfunded access to public defenders — to a system of justice for all. Our entire legal system is in need of a systemic overhaul, and Detroit’s is no exception. The fact is, we cannot have truly safe communities until we can guarantee justice for all. The current practice of throwing money at the broken system is not the answer either. All of this is what folks are demanding in the streets and many of my constituents have shared the same sentiment with me.
Every day, there is a movement in every corner of the country to declare that not only do Black lives matter, but that we must also create the laws and opportunities necessary to fulfill the full promise of that rallying cry. In the country’s largest majority-Black city, this movement should not be met with city leaders’ efforts to suppress anyone’s First Amendment rights.
It is even more appalling that those who took an oath of office to serve the people are aiding and abetting in their suppression. We look shamefully on and scorn those who allowed and participated in the beating and undermining of civil rights icons such as John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and James Baldwin — how can we possibly be OK with standing idly by while those who are fighting the civil rights battles of this day are abused too?
In his last words to our nation, John Lewis said he was inspired by those setting aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity. Perhaps he saw the similarities in the fight that nearly cost him his life decades ago.
And yet here we are again.
We are watching the next generation of civil rights leaders being demonized by those in positions of power and the media. You can’t deny the facts. Peaceful protesters were violently assaulted, run over and tear gassed by our police department during one of the largest social justice mobilizations of our lifetime.
Read original article here.