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Congressional Black Caucus Members React to Decision in Ferguson

Fudge calls the grand jury's action a "slap in the face."  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Just as America seems divided on the death of a young black man in Ferguson, Mo., members of the Congressional Black Caucus are showing their own divisions over the racially charged incident that has prompted many in Congress to wonder how they should respond.  

A CBC spokesperson told CQ Roll Call Tuesday that the special orders hour on the first day the House is back, Monday Dec. 1, would be on Ferguson, but knew of no legislative response lawmakers were planning to take, including legislation to address the militarization of police. There were calls for hearings this summer on the Pentagon-to-police weapons program after the initial protests erupted in Ferguson, but there were no such calls Tuesday — at least not yet.  

Instead, it's been words — statements and tweets — that have marked the different approaches to Ferguson. And Monday night, after a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the police offer who shot and killed unarmed teen Michael Brown this summer, members further showed their divisions. No lawmaker offered a more blunt or provocative assessment than outgoing CBC leader Marcia Fudge of Ohio.  

"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."  

She called the decision not to indict Wilson a "miscarriage of justice," and a "slap in the face to Americans nationwide who continue to hope and believe that justice will prevail," while also noting that her heart went out to Michael Brown and his family.  

Others, including Missouri Rep. and former CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver II urged those frustrated by the grand jury decision to channel their anger into constructive political and judicial reform.  

"Without a doubt, there are important issues in this country that need to be confronted, communicated, and worked through in the spirit of community," Cleaver said in a statement. "But violence, looting, and arson are not the answer. Not even close. We sacrifice the safety of others by creating chaos — instead of pursuing a path that protects the rights of all Americans — regardless of color."  

In a series of tweets, Cleaver added that addressing Ferguson was "not the work of a moment but of a movement, and it will take a coalition, not a confrontation." He also tweeted that, "If they do not hear our cries in the street, let them hear us in the voting booth."  

Civil rights icon John Lewis, D-Ga., tweeted that only love could overcome hate, and only nonviolence could overcome violence.  

"I know this [is] hard. I know this is difficult. Do not succumb to the temptations of violence. There is a more powerful way," he said in a separate tweet that had garnered more than 5,500 retweets by Tuesday afternoon.  

Ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, released a statement that said the issues contributing to Michael Brown's shooting were more complex than a criminal indictment of a single police officer.  

"This result underscores the legal hurdles faced in holding the police accountable for abuse of authority and further illustrates the need for major reform in our criminal justice system," he said.  

Conyers and William Lacy Clay, the Democrat who represents Ferguson, wrote a letter this summer to the Department of Justice asking for a civil rights investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown. Clay said in a statement Monday night that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., had "assured me" that the ongoing federal investigations will be "extensive, vigorous, and will follow the facts, wherever they lead.  

"The pursuit of justice for Michael Brown, Jr. and his family is not over," Clay said.  

   

Related: New Focus on Civil Rights, Militarized Cops Emerges in Wake of Ferguson As Ferguson Police-Protester Clashes Escalate, Congress Wades In Obama Calls for Calm, Healing CBC Members Call for Full DOJ Investigation Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.