EXCLUSIVE. Black Caucus Members Headed to Ferguson. At least 10 members of the Congressional Black Caucus will travel to Ferguson, Missouri on January 18 — the day before the Martin Luther King Holiday. They will attend a church service at a local Methodist Church and listen to local leaders.
The members will attend services at Wellspring United Methodist Church in the city that found itself in headlines all over the world after the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown at the hands of former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.
Members of the Black Caucus will be focused on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but will also encourage local residents to use the activism and energy seen over the last 100-plus days as a driver of political engagement. Specifically: Voting.
The trip is the first part of an effort to galvanize the local community around voter registration and ballot access. A targeted get-out-the-vote effort before local elections for City Council in April is also a focus. But several CBC members say the trip’s main goal is to touch on themes around the legacy of Dr. King and the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which was signed nearly fifty years ago on August 6, 1965.
One of the issues rising out of Ferguson is the disconnect between young and old leadership.
Several legacy civil rights leaders have received an earful from the younger Ferguson leaders who, from August to December of 2014, brought the issue of police brutality into national and international focus. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO), who represents Ferguson spoke on that issue and whether there is a young/old disconnect.
“In my case there is no real disconnect,” Clay said. “I appreciate their advocacy and I appreciate them [young people] being on the frontlines and I want them to know I have their back,” he added.
Rep. Clay also mentioned a young Ferguson activist who worked in his office.
“Brittany Packnett — who I’ve known since I was a child and use to work for me, is now on President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Commission as well as on Governor Nixon’s Ferguson Commission. We talk constantly. I’ve reached out to the other young people in the movement and let them know I’m not here to be obtuse to them I am here to have their back and be supportive of them and follow their list of demands and advocate for that list of demands,” said Rep. Clay.
Packnett testified at the first meeting of President Obama’s Policing Commission in Washington, D.C. on January 13. She also met with the President at the White House with several other young Ferguson activists on December 1st. Clay also mentioned there is upcoming legislation planned on police involved shootings.
Members of the Black Caucus have offered five pieces of legislation related to police brutality in the wake of the Ferguson drama. They deal with some of the demands seen on the #BlackLivesMatter and FergusonAction websites. The list of legislation can be seen here. Federal legislation authored by a Black Caucus member requiring police departments to report the details of deaths in custody became law in December.
Additionally, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) is offering two piece of legislation related to police use of deadly force. Cohen, who represents Memphis, represents a district that is 65% African American.
On January 12, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), who will be in Ferguson on Sunday, pushed the White House to include funding for police body cameras in President Obama’s upcoming FY2016 budget proposal. Democrats in Congress must push their own party and Republicans on Ferguson related issues simultaneously.
Led by Black Caucus members, such as new Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Democrats have struggled to get Republicans to move a fix to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which was gutted by the five Republican appointed members of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2013. But Democrats face a stiff Republican headwind in Congress on the issue.
On January 14, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said, “to this point, we have not seen a process forward that is necessary because we believe the Voting Rights Act provided substantial protection.”
But Ferguson’s issues are more localized and are related to a lack of full participation on the part of citizens to vigorously exercise their right to vote. Ferguson is over 65% African American but there is only one Black member of the six person Ferguson City Council.
Sources close to the trip say there will be an effort to enlist national political leaders to visit Ferguson and encourage political and civic engagement with the permission and input of local leaders. But for the trip this Sunday, there is likely to be more listening and worshiping than talking. Though two of the members will speak at the service.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), who is also a Methodist pastor, talked on January 9 about the Ferguson trip and whether it was a political trip, a listening tour, or both.
“Obviously as politicians you can’t escape the political. We’re going to a worship service,” Rep. Cleaver confirmed. But the members will also take time to speak with local leaders.
Late last week new Black Caucus Chairman Butterfield said, “we’re looking to come up with some ideas,” when asked about the Ferguson trip. The Black Caucus Chairman re-emphasized that the trip will be themed around the ideals of Dr. King and voting rights and how his strategies could be applied specifically to Ferguson.
On December 11, a group of Ferguson based attorneys assisting local activists visited the Congressional Black Caucus’ weekly meeting. They also met with Rep. Clay in his office on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Cedric Richmond told the Times-Picyune earlier this week that the Ferguson outing was the, “only thing that can take me out of New Orleans for Martin Luther King Day. I think it’s an important message to send around the world.”
The trip was originally planned to be on the King Holiday but will instead be the day before.
In addition to Reps. Clay, Cleaver and Butterfield, other members who will travel to Ferguson include: Reps. Andre Carson (D-IN), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Don Payne (D-NJ), Karen Bass (D-CA) and former CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-OH).