In speech at Edward Kennedy Institute, senator endorses human rights movement and calls for broad reforms to address institutional racism
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Sunday gave a candid endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement and called for widespread anti-racist activism and institutional reform, stating in a speech at the Edward Kennedy Institute in Massachusetts, “This is the reality all of us must confront, as uncomfortable and ugly as that reality may be. It comes to us to once again affirm that black lives matter, that black citizens matter, that black families matter.”
“Listen to the brave, powerful voices of today’s new generation of civil rights leaders,” Warren said at the Institute’s Getting to the Point speaker series. “Watch them march through the streets, ‘hands up don’t shoot’—not to incite a riot, but to fight for their lives. To fight for their lives.”
Warren, whose outspoken support of progressive issues has made her an influential voice among activists, also called for policing reform and linked racial inequality to institutional disparities in economic opportunities, housing, and voting rights.
Fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, “violence against African Americans has not disappeared,” Warren said. “And what about voting rights? Two years ago, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates ever wider for measures designed to suppress minority voting.”
“And what about economic injustice?…. Economic justice is not—and has never been—sufficient to ensure racial justice. Owning a home won’t stop someone from burning a cross on the front lawn. Admission to a school won’t prevent a beating on the sidewalk outside,” Warren said. “The tools of oppression were woven together, and the civil rights struggle was fought against that oppression wherever it was found—against violence, against the denial of voting rights and against economic injustice.”
Warren’s speech stood out among other lawmakers’ recent comments on the racial justice movement. One prominent activist, DeRay Mckesson, told the Washington Post that the address “clearly and powerfully calls into question America’s commitment to black lives by highlighting the role that structural racism has played and continues to play with regard to housing discrimination and voting rights.”
“And Warren, better than any political leader I’ve yet heard, understands the protests as a matter of life or death—that the American dream has been sustained by an intentional violence and that the uprisings have been the result of years of lived trauma,” he said.
Much of Warren’s address echoed activist demands, particularly in her appeal for reform of law enforcement, with a renewed focus on community policing, increased accountability and transparency for officers, and appointments of special prosecutors in cases where police kill civilians.
Warren also made a blunt acknowledgment of her own racial privilege and challenged others to recognize their own roles in the fight for equality, stating, “I speak today with the full knowledge that I have not personally experienced and can never truly understand the fear, the oppression, and the pain that confronts African Americans every day. But none of us can ignore what is happening in this country. Not when our black friends, family, neighbors literally fear dying in the streets.”
“We’ve seen sickening videos of unarmed, black Americans cut down by bullets, choked to death while gasping for air—their lives ended by those who are sworn to protect them. Peaceful, unarmed protesters have been beaten. Journalists have been jailed. And, in some cities, white vigilantes with weapons freely walk the streets.
“And it’s not just about law enforcement either. Just look to the terrorism this summer at Emanuel AME Church. We must be honest: Fifty years after John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out, violence against African Americans has not disappeared,” Warren said.
“Yes, there’s work to do.”