Congressional Black Caucus leaders on Friday emphasized that the Black Lives Matter movement that sparked protests after two recent police killings of black men is nonviolent and not associated with the shootings in Dallas that left five police officers dead.
“If someone goes in a building and assassinates five police officers, they are a terrorist by any definition,” CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield said at a news conference Friday.
The North Carolina Democrat’s comments follow a sniper attack on police Thursday night in Dallas . Five police offers were killed and seven other officers and two civilians were injured in the attack following a demonstration against recent police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota .
CBC members joined Butterfield at the news conference to express their anger about both the police-led shootings and the Dallas attack, and to call on Congress to act on gun control and provide resources to enhance law enforcement and community relations.
They also asked that people of all races and backgrounds across the country join the Black Lives Matter movement and call for action.
Although the movement has been criticized by some for sparking the violent attack against police in Dallas, the CBC members said they stand by the goals and ideals of the group. They’ve also been active participants, helping lead a march late Thursday from Capitol Hill to the White House to protest the Louisiana and Minnesota shootings.
“People cannot use Black Lives Matter as a scapegoat,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond.
The Louisiana Democrat said the protests are not based on something imagined, but real transgressions against black people.
Richmond said frustrations in the movement are based on the lack of commonsense action.
“Law enforcement not killing unarmed black people should be low hanging fruit,” Richmond said.
Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee said the protesters in Dallas, like others participating in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations throughout the nation, were crying out in pain for action but never once encouraged violence against the police.
“The violence came toward us,” she said. “We did not offer any violence.”
Richmond said CBC members have requested House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia to convene a hearing on the use of deadly force. The committee’s ranking member, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, said the Democrats have also been asking for a committee vote on the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act but that those negotiations remain stuck.
“If this Congress does not have the guts to lead, then we are responsible for all the bloodshed on the streets of America,” Richmond said.
Republicans will be to blame for the inaction, said Texas Rep. Al Green.
“The speaker of the House has to be called on the carpet for what he’s failed to do,” he said.
CBC members said they hope the protests, both in and outside of Congress, will finally spur action on gun control and efforts to eliminate unnecessary police shootings.
“In order to make progress in America as we continue to march toward a more perfect union, you need peaceful agitation to precede legislation,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
Texas Democrat Marc Veasey, who represents parts of Dallas, said Friday was the saddest day he’s experienced as a member of Congress.
He was briefed by the Dallas Police Department on the sniper attacks and spoke with the mother and aunt of one of the officers killed. The officer was a constituent who lived in Fort Worth.
“It was hate-filled, what happened,” Veasey said.
Veasey expressed his appreciation for law enforcement, but also called for systematic changes to ensure that kids like his 10-year-old son won’t grow up and have to worry about being killed for no reason.
“I worry about him when he gets older,” he said. “I just don’t want anything to happen to him just because maybe he shoots off [at the mouth] or does something somebody doesn’t like.”
Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia seemed especially solemn when he was asked about how today’s Black Lives Matter movement compares to the civil rights battles in the 1960s.
“Sometimes we’re sliding back,” he said, adding that the “scars and stains of racism” still exist.