Black “1870” pins worn by members of Congress for the State of the Union carry deep meaning
During President Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday, in which he addressed the country’s top issues before Congress, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats made a bold statement of their own – albeit a silent one.
Many wore black lapel pins with the number “1870,” marking the year of the first known police killing of an unarmed and free Black person in the United States. The pins are a call to action to reform the police institution that has killed thousands of black people in the 153 years since.
“I’m tired of the moments of silence. I’m sick of the mourning season,” New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat who came up with the idea of creating the pins, told Yahoo News ahead of the speech. “I wanted to emphasize that police killings of unarmed black citizens have been in the news since the 1870’s and yet significant action still needs to be taken.”
On March 31, 1870, 26-year-old Henry Truman, a black man, was shot dead by Philadelphia officer John Whiteside after being accused of shoplifting from a grocery store.
Whiteside had allegedly chased Truman into an alley when at one point Truman turned to ask him what he had done wrong and the officer fatally shot him, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report the following day. At the trial, Whiteside claimed he was mugged by a crowd while chasing Truman. Whiteside was later convicted of manslaughter. That same year, the country passed the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote.
Over a century and a half since Truman’s assassination, a steady stream of black people have been killed by law enforcement, including 1,353 since 2017, according to data from Statista, a digital insights company. In fact, black Americans are three times more likely to be killed by police than whites and are responsible for 1 in 4 police killings despite making up only 13% of the country’s population.
Many of the parents, siblings and children of black people killed by police over the past decade were invited as guests by members of the Congressional Black Caucus for Tuesday’s address. The guest list included the families of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was gunned down by Cleveland police in a playground in 2014; Amir Locke, the 22-year-old who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police last year in a dawn raid without knocking; Tire Nichols, the 29-year-old who was fatally beaten by Memphis police during a traffic stop early last month; and a dozen other families who have lost loved ones.
“My hope today is that we can get Congress to see that we need to pass this legislation because this should never happen,” Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said at a news conference with the Congressional Black Caucus Tuesday afternoon. “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”
In contrast, several Republicans chose to honor members of law enforcement as their guests, including Rep. Mike Garcia of California, who brought along Tania Owen, a retired detective and widow of a Los Angeles County sheriff’s sergeant, who was shot by a suspect He was answering a call about an ongoing burglary in 2016. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York and Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon received police officers from their respective counties.
The invitations came after several other Republicans were during National Gun Violence Survivors Week last week photographed with AR-15 pins, who were passed out on the floor of the home by Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia. clyde claimed the pens were “to remind people of the Second Amendment and how important it is to upholding our liberties.”
Many proponents of police reform have argued that the systemic issues surrounding policing go even beyond racial lines, highlighting the fact that the five main officers involved in Nichols’ brutal beating were also black.
“Being black doesn’t protect you from all the forces that make police violence possible,” James Forman Jr., a Yale University law professor and an expert on race and law enforcement, told the New York Times. “What are the theories of policing and the styles of policing, the training that police receive? All of these dynamics driving violence and brutality are more powerful than the officer’s race.”
Karundi Williams, CEO of Re:power, an organization that trains black people to be political leaders, told NBC News that addressing the core issues is the only way to prevent more killings.
“When we have moments of racial injustice that get the national spotlight, outrage rises and people take to the streets,” Williams said. “But then the media tends to move on to other things and that awareness wanes. But we never really got to the bottom of the problem.”
In 2022 alone, police killed 1,192 people, more than any year in the past decade, according to a new report released last week by nonprofit organization Mapping Police Violence. Blacks were responsible for more than 300 of these murders. The report also claimed that many of these killings could have been avoided by changing law enforcement’s approach to such encounters, e.g. B. the dispatch of psychologists to certain emergency calls.
But fundamental police reform is still lagging behind.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, enacted following the 2020 killing of 46-year-old Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, aims to end excessive force, qualified immunity and racial bias in policing and misconduct by the fight police. The bill passed the House of Representatives twice in the last Congress, but continued to fail in the Senate.
“With the support of victims’ families, civil rights groups and law enforcement agencies, I signed an executive order for all federal officers banning strangleholds, restricting bans on knocking and other key elements of the George Floyd Act,” Biden said in his State of the Union address. “Let’s commit to making Tyre’s mother’s words true, something good must come of it.”
Following the recent police killing of Nichols, members of the Black Caucus are cautiously optimistic that change will soon come.
“Unfortunately, this rekindles the zeal, the need, and the urgency,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a senior member of the Judiciary Subcommittee for Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, recently told Yahoo News. “With 18,000 police communities, there needs to be federal law governing police training and relationships. We have to restart.”
A Info card attached to the black pin given to members of the Black Caucus expresses frustration at numerous police killings from Truman to Nichols.
“153 years later, nothing has changed,” the note reads in part. “We’re fed up with the grief and we’re calling for change.”