The senseless killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has provoked grief and legitimate anger across our nation. It has also served as a reminder that, despite the tremendous gains we have made, there is still more work to be done to secure justice and equal treatment for every American.
Mr. Floyd’s death has prompted debate about how police tactics can be improved. I believe the Minneapolis officer who committed this crime is far outside the norm, and the vast majority of our police officers serve us faithfully every day. Yet there are ways we can improve police training to ensure maximum respect for life and liberty. My colleague U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a black Republican, is developing legislation that would improve police training in de-escalation tactics and increase accountability for officers who use excessive force. I look forward to its consideration by the full Senate.
As we consider reforms such as these, we should also renew our commitment to building bridges across lines that have too often divided us. Now is a time for us to come together, to look to the future, and to listen. We may not agree on everything, but we know that love covers a multitude of sins and paves the way for healing and trust. That is an outcome for which we should all strive.
I was 11 years old when one of Mississippi’s early civil rights leaders, Medgar Evers, was struck by an assassin’s bullet outside of his home in Jackson. The day was June 12, 1963. An outpouring of grief followed from the nation for the Evers family, who were shattered by the loss of a beloved father and husband. Unfortunately, justice did not come swiftly. Two trials resulted in hung juries, allowing the guilty to walk free. A full 30 years went by before a new trial finally resulted in a conviction.
Like so many other African Americans, Evers had served his country during World War II, yet returned to a society that treated him as a second-class citizen. After being rejected from law school because of his race, he joined the Mississippi NAACP, where he spent his career working to expand economic opportunity, voting rights, and access to public facilities for African Americans.
Medgar Evers knew the risks involved in his work. Police frequently escorted him home for protection, and his children trained for how to respond to an attack at their home. Yet he pressed on until his assassination, firm in his conviction that “the gifts of God should be enjoyed by all citizens in Mississippi.” His work lives on in the lives of so many who fought for equality. To honor Evers’ contribution to our country, I co-authored a law last year that made his Jackson home a National Monument. And in 2018, I participated in a ceremony adding the home to the African American Civil Rights Network.
A century before Evers died, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all Southern slaves free. That proclamation brought our nation into closer alignment with the truth that all men are created equal. Unfortunately, it took two additional years for slaves in Texas. On June 19, we will honor the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth – the day freedom arrived for slaves in the farthest corner of the South.
As I have done in past years, I am sponsoring a resolution in the Senate recognizing Juneteenth. We honor this date every year because we should never forget our past failures or the bigger challenges we have overcome as we continue to strengthen our union.