POLITICS
09/27/2015 04:18 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2015

Elizabeth Warren Goes All In On Black Lives Matter

Warren spoke out against police violence and voting restrictions, as well as persistent economic discrimination.

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Sunday forcefully called for a renewed focus on the fight for racial justice, arguing that “we have not made enough progress” since the civil rights movement of the 1960s and outlining three main policy areas in which black people continue to face discrimination, including her signature issue of economic inequality.

Speaking at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston, established by her late predecessor, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Warren’s speech was tied to the legacy of the monumental 1960s civil rights laws that Kennedy championed.

“These laws made three powerful declarations: Black lives matter. Black citizens matter. Black families matter,” she said, according to her prepared remarks.

But she said it is clear that “we have not made enough progress,” organizing the speech around three major areas in which black people still face injustice: police violence, voting restrictions and economic inequality.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke Sunday about three major areas in which black people still face injustice.
Jennifer Graylock/Getty Images
Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke Sunday about three major areas in which black people still face injustice.

Linking her long-standing fight for the middle class to the fight for racial justice, Warren conceded that “economic justice is not and has never been sufficient to ensure racial justice.” However, Warren pivoted back to her signature issue throughout her speech, noting that African-Americans continue to face diminished economic prospects and discrimination in housing, education and employment.

She also reminded the audience that the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 was as much about economic justice as it was about racial justice.

“When Dr. King led hundreds of thousands of people to march on Washington, he talked about an end to violence, access to voting and economic opportunity. As Dr. King once wrote, ‘the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice.’”

Warren acknowledged that economic reforms are not enough to combat the racism that still persists in America. “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,” she said.

Citing the recent deaths of African-Americans in police custody, such as Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray, as well as the aggressive tactics police used during the protests against these deaths, she lamented that black people continue to experience disproportionately unfair treatment from police. In proposing solutions, she echoed the recent calls for police reforms, including the need to create more diverse police forces that “look like, and come from, the neighborhoods they serve” and the demilitarization of police.

“This is America, not a war zone, and policing practices in all cities, not just some, need to reflect that,” she said.

St. Louis County Police make an arrest in Ferguson, Missouri, as protesters mark the anniversary of Michael Brown's death.
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
St. Louis County Police make an arrest in Ferguson, Missouri, as protesters mark the anniversary of Michael Brown's death.

Warren also railed against the continued assault against voting rights for minorities, particularly in the South, where lawmakers have resorted to more subtle tactics for keeping voters off the rolls, such as gerrymandering, voter ID laws and more complicated voting procedures. She scolded congressional Republicans for holding out on legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, parts of which were struck down by the Supreme Court in a 2013 ruling. She also called on states to implement automatic voter registration to reduce the procedural hurdles of voting.

She tied the central argument of her speech back to her message of economic inequality, citing persistent housing discrimination against blacks, the high black unemployment rate, and how the housing bubble and economic recession disproportionately gutted economic opportunities for the black middle class. Warren hailed what is perhaps her most famous policy achievement, the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as the first step in curtailing discriminatory mortgage and banking policies.

“It’s time to come down hard on predatory practices that allow financial institutions to systematically strip wealth out of communities of color. One of the ugly consequences of bank deregulation was that there was no cop on the beat when too many financial institutions figured out that they could make great money by tricking, trapping and defrauding targeted families,” she said.

Warren acknowledged that as a white politician, “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,” she said. “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.

“It comes to us to once again affirm that black lives matter, that black citizens matter, that black families matter.”

The speech drew praise from Black Lives Matter activists, like DeRay Mckesson, who has prominently called for lawmakers to make direct policy proposals that address police violence. 

"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," Mckesson told The Washington Post.

This article was updated with comments from DeRay Mckesson.

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