As a group of Black mothers whose sons have been killed by police looked on, more than 100 members of Congress, Congressional staffers and other Capitol employees walked out of Congress and stood silently on the House steps yesterday with their hands raised in the air in a protest that demonstrates just how far the outrage over the recent grand jury decisions has penetrated the nation’s consciousness.
Pictures of the protest showed the remarkable image of more than 100 business-suited men and women, mostly African-American but also representing other races and ethnicities, standing in the December cold with the scaffolding-covered Capitol dome looming behind them.
Among the protesters were Reps. Joaquin Castro and Marc Veasey, both Democrats representing Texas, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
In a Congress where most of those who walked out will soon be members of the minority party, it’s not clear whether Congress will be taking any action that might satisfy those who have been showing their anger across the U.S. But the demonstration yesterday does illustrate that the voices of the protesters have reached the highest levels of American political power—as President Obama indicated a few days ago when he said he supported the protests as long as they remained peaceful.
The walk-out was witnessed by a group of Black mothers whose sons have been killed by police and who have been lobbying members of Congress this week seeking action to end police brutality.
As she watched the protest, Valerie Bell—whose son Sean Bell was shot by officers in New York in 2006 on the morning of his wedding—told reporters, “We stand with them, and they stand with us.”
As the protesters bowed their heads in front of the House, Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, who is African-American, led them in prayer.
“Forgive us when we have failed to lift our voices for those who couldn’t speak or breathe for themselves,” Black said, emphasizing the word “breathe” in reference to Eric Garner, who repeatedly uttered the words “I can’t breathe” as he was being suffocated by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo.
“May we not forget that in our history injustice has often been maintained because good people failed to promptly act,” Black said, according to a CBS News report.
Congressional Black Associates and other groups representing minority employees of Congress organized the protest to show that they are in support of the protesters who are rallying around the country.
As they went back in the building, Black told reporters they were exercising their free speech rights “to say that there are some issues that are significantly critical, that there needs to be a greater conversation.”
“There is no community that is immune to police abuse,” Rep. Castro, a second generation Mexican-American, said afterward. “It is happening in every community. It is more concentrated in minority communities, particularly the African-American community, but this is something that all Americans are concerned about.”