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Thursday, July 19, 2018

By Hannah Hess, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are backing the White House’s request for a $263 million spending package to expand the use of body cameras for police, hammering the point in a series of passionate floor speeches Monday night regarding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

In addition to praising President Barack Obama for taking the lead on body cameras, Rep. Al Green called on Congress to follow Obama’s lead on the issue by holding a hearing on the Texas Democrat’s own Transparency in Policing Act to expand use of the technology to all police departments that receive federal dollars.

“We shouldn’t get it right after the fact. This is what is happening in Ferguson,”Green said, suggesting a legislative response that is widely supported by the caucus. In Washington, the Metropolitan Police Departmentrolled outa pilot body camera program on Oct. 1, and cities around the country are launching similar programs.

“We don’t need to have an injustice take place before we move to a just circumstance and incorporate these body cameras,” he said.

Though Obama mostly avoided using his bully pulpit to talk about a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who killed the unarmed teenager Brown, the CBC began planning to shine a light on Ferguson when the House returned from its Thanksgiving break in the immediate wake of the decision. The lawmakers have demanded a more aggressive approach to the case, without previously offering a specific proposal for Congress.

“Mr. Speaker, we are running out of patience,” said CBC leader Marcia Fudge (D-OH) during her turn at the microphone. She repeated her blunt assertion that the decision not to indict was “yet another slap in our face.” Fudge also thanked Obama for “putting a focus on the need for community policing in our country.”

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) said a “cancer” of racial injustice has infected the country. “What has to be is that we cut this poison out of the system of this great country and openly say that we have this problem, and then, as the parents of Mr. Brown would want, that death would have been just another sacrifice that one of us has made to wake up this wonderful country to do what has to be done.”

Since the Nov. 24 announcement of the grand jury’s decision, Ferguson protesters in D.C. have visited the Capitol grounds, the Supreme Court and the Justice Department. This week, demonstrators stalled traffic in the District, shutting down the 14th Street Bridge during the Monday morning commute and a portion of Interstate 395 on Sunday.

“These demonstrations show that issues of detention and stopping of black men, especially black men in the streets, has been simmering below the surface until this tragedy became a way for it to find an outlet,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, (D-DC) said Monday night. She praised Attorney General Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, for ending “provocative stops in the street” of the nation’s capital.

Norton also offered her support for body cameras, saying they protect the police as well as the public. She emphasized the focus needed to be “big picture … in essence, sending a message to police departments all over the United States.”

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski