Updated 7-12 5:10 p.m. A bipartisan working group focused on improving relations between law enforcement and the African-American community will hold its first meeting Thursday before Congress breaks for a seven-week recess.
Six House Republicans and six Democrats comprise the group, including several members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The meeting will include a pastor, an advocate and a law professor, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers, who are on the team.
“Our goal in creating this working group is to discuss these issues candidly with each another so that we can begin to find common ground on these matters of national importance,” Goodlatte and Conyers said in a joint statement.
Other Democrats called the move a step in the right direction but continued to demand action on gun legislation that would expand background checks and prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing a weapon.
“It doesn’t massage us in any way, shape or form,” Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y. said. “We’re not going anywhere on this issue.”
Kelly said members will continue pushing for gun control measures when they return to their districts this summer. She called the working group’s creation “a good first step as long as everyone has equal say at the table.”
The formation of the working group follows last week’s sniper attack in Dallas that left five police officers dead, as well as two high-profile cases where police shot African-American men. Speaker Paul D. Ryan expressed his support for law enforcement but said he also understands there are people in the country who don’t feel safe because of the color of their skin.
“I think it’s very important that we calm down in this country, we start listening to each other, we start talking about solutions,” Ryan said at a town hall Tuesday on CNN. “We’re already forming a bipartisan group in Congress to do just that — about training, about communities. And we [need to] look at those success stories that are out there in our communities and see if we can replicate that.”
“The fact that people think that and feel that is a problem in this country,” Ryan said.
Through mutual respect and listening, Ryan said he hopes the House working group can begin to find solutions to fix that problem.
Asked if he understands why people say “black lives matter,” Ryan initially said that people need to be respectful of each others’ different views and not harden themselves in a corner.
“You can’t blame the shooting on Black Lives Matter and you can’t also blame the bad things that a couple of cops do on all of the cops,” he said. “So let’s not make sure that we’re painting people with a broad brush here.”
But pushed to offer a more direct answer, Ryan added, “You’re saying black lives matter because people feel like they’re being discriminated against and they’re not safe because of the color of their skin. So that’s profound.”
“And because people believe that, we have to listen to that,” he said. “And we have to hear about it. We have to understand it. And then instead of just talking, let’s go try solving it.”
In addition to Goodlatte and Conyers, House members in the working group are: Republicans Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, Doug Collins of Georgia, Dave Reichert of Washington, Susan Brooks of Indiana and Will Hurd of Texas. The Democrats are: Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Robin Kelly of Illinois.