Thank you, Mr. President.
Kenneth Chamberlin, Sr.
Sadly, Mr. President, I could go on for hours. I stand here today, heartbroken, frustrated, angry and sad. But not without hope.
It would be enough for our nation to have to battle one pandemic. But as we recover from COVID-19, we do so while continuing our centuries-long fight against the virus of racism.
Over the past 3 days we have passed a package of bills that have tried to deal with that virus.
Just yesterday, one of my young and talented colleagues Senator Jamaal Bailey quoted lyrics from Tupac Shakur…well I am going to take it in a different direction.
Over the last few days and weeks, Bruce Springsteen’s song American Skin (41 shots) keeps coming into my head….a haunting song that speaks to so many tragic moments that we have experienced. A song written over 20 years ago about the killing of an unarmed Black man. Amadou Diallo.
The chorus is a haunting accusation… It goes—It’s no secret my friend, you can get killed just for living in your American Skin.
That line says it all.
You can get killed just for the color of your skin. He knew it. He said it and even Bruce-the working class hero was ostracized and demonized.
Those words have stuck with me. Because as a mother and grandmother of Black children I have lived with this worry.
And every mother and grandmother that looks like me shares this worry.
Mothers like Gwen Carr, Valerie Bell, Sybrina Fulton, and Lezlie McSpadden know the awful reality of this worry coming true.
The fact is, if you are Black in this country, you have faced racism.
You know I was talking to a friend the other day and saying that I think at this point you or someone that you know has been effected by cancer. Well if you are Black in America, you or someone you know has had a bad interaction with law enforcement. That just the way it is.
None of us is immune – it doesn’t matter what your economic status or education level is, it certainly doesn’t matter if you are a New York State Senator. Just ask Senator Zellnor Myrie.
That reality hits you deep inside and stays with you in everything you do.
On a personal note, I think of me and my family and things that have happened in our lives.
I often talk about the discrimination my father faced as a heroic World War II soldier in a segregated army but I don’t often mention my brother, a Marine, who served honorably in Vietnam. When Bobby was 24 years old, he became a transit cop in New York City. When he was 30, he left. He told me two things when we spoke last night. He told me he became a Police Officer because he wanted to help people in our community, and he left ultimately because he was convinced that the system was created to give young Black men a record. He told me how he watched two white kids fighting who were brought down to the station and their parents called. While two Black kids fighting were arrested for assault and stained with a record that would follow them their whole lives.
Bobby was a good cop and he worked with a lot of good cops. But Bobby did not think that he alone could change the system or that the system could change itself.
I also think of a night years ago when I got a phone call, my youngest son who was only 18 was with his friends on the other side of town. They were stopped and frisked and by the time it was over Steven was in the emergency room with a fractured nose. And let me tell you Steven would never resist.
And now with four grandsons I worry that they face many of the same issues.
However, I do have hope. Because here I am remarkably in this historic position at this historic time able to be part of a movement that started with the blatant and horrific murder of George Floyd. Something all of us have seen, and as a result of that, people have taken to the streets.
I see people that look like me and people that don’t, united and calling for change. And that gives me hope.
This past week, I have traveled throughout my district and gone to Black Lives Matter rallies in areas that I never thought would embrace that simple rallying cry. And that gives me hope.
I see elected leaders of all races and backgrounds stand together and take action to curb police brutality. And that gives me hope and faith.
But as scripture says ‘Faith without works is dead.’ And that’s why we took action this week.
What we did is not a cure, but it is a first step towards acknowledging that while laws alone cannot fix racism in America, they can begin to root injustice out of our justice system, and start us on the path to equality.
We all know that there will be more moments that shake us all to our core.
But our response during those moments makes all the difference.