August 21, 2014
What we saw happen in Ferguson, Missouri last week following the police shooting of Michael Brown, an African-American young man who was unarmed, does not reflect the ideals of this nation. Peaceful protests are the way citizens of this nation have exercised their first amendment rights to freedom of expression, assembly and the right to petition. This is what many of the people of that community chose to do. Instead of being respected as citizens of this nation however, Ferguson residents who gathered to vocally oppose a painful and inexcusable use by police of deadly force were met with tear gas, rubber bullets, and police equipped as though they are militia in a war zone. An elected official was arrested, journalists were roughed up and innocent, unarmed civilians had weapons pointed in their faces for merely being outside of their homes. What I saw last week reminded me of violent responses to uprisings in countries around the world, not here in our own backyard. We are supposed to be better than that. Law enforcement is supposed to protect and serve, not search, intimidate and assault. If the St. Louis County Police Department’s intent was to deescalate the situation in Ferguson, the way in which they have proceeded is a counterproductive means to that end, and they are doing much more harm than good. I applaud Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s decision to remove that police department from command and put the Missouri Highway Patrol in charge of crowd control and security. Led by Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, a native of Ferguson who is African-American the difference was night and day. The officers in military style gear with heavy weaponry were gone from the streets and Capt. Johnson signaled a new day, walking with demonstrators and treating them with respect. The people of Missouri and the entire nation still need answers, not to mention justice for the shooting of Mr. Brown. In the days and weeks ahead, I hope the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI continue to vigorously monitor and review the investigation into his death to ensure that justice is served. For women of color, I am pleased to announce that racially insensitive changes made to Army hairstyle guidelines have been adjusted. Revised guidelines had declared some traditional hairstyles worn by African American women as unauthorized. Along with fellow female members of the Congressional Black Caucus, I expressed concern to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Mr. Hagel along with the Department of Defense moved to change the guidelines, so that they better accommodate the hairstyles of women of color. According to a response letter from Sec. Hagel, “… each Service reviewed its hairstyle policies to ensure standards are fair and respectful while also meeting our military requirements.” After reviewing the standards, the Army, Navy, and Air Force adjusted the hairstyle guidelines accordingly, with the Marine Corps scheduled to review their guidelines in a uniform board this summer. Sec. Hagel’s response proves that he acknowledges that these hairstyles do not reflect less professionalism or commitment to the high standards required to serve within our Armed Forces. With these changes, Secretary Hagel and the Department of Defense not only show that they are responsive to the individuals who serve within our military, but that he and his leadership respect them as well. Finally, in keeping with my commitment to serve our nation’s veterans, I am pleased to announce the addition of Bill Anderson to my staff to help veterans in our district. Mr. Anderson, a wounded warrior and veteran himself, will assist other veterans as they navigate federal government programs and disability claims. He is committed to treating all veterans fairly and seeing that their issues are addressed by the appropriate personnel. Please feel free to reach out to him with any concerns involving veteran education and health care benefits, housing, assistance obtaining earned medals and any other federal issues. Have a good week everyone.