Every day that I serve in Congress in Washington, D.C., I walk through our Capitol, which serves as a symbol of freedom and democracy at home and around the world. But I’m also struck by the fact that it a building built by slaves and still filled with numerous statues commemorating Confederate leaders. As we reckon with that past, we must find ways to pursue justice every day here in the present. It is my responsibility to listen and help build a future where American policy reflects the fundamental truth that Black lives matter. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape that future.
Rep. Mike Quigley attends a Black Lives Matter protest in Chicago along with State Representative Ann Williams and other local officials.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Laquan McDonald, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown. These are just a few of the names we know of Black Americans who have died at the hands of police. While I believe that the vast majority of law enforcement officials are good men and women who want to make their communities a safer, better place to live, there are still too many instances where unconscious bias or systemic racism has negatively impacted Black communities. Black Americans have spent decades demanding change and despite this, we continue to see unarmed African Americans killed time and time again. Going for a jog, or a drive, or going bird watching or simply being in your own home should not be a death sentence for Black Americans.
We must enact transformative changes to a system that has failed Black communities for too long. We must hold the police accountable for their actions because nobody - not even the police - is above the law. We must immediately ban the use of chokeholds by law enforcement; we must encourage departments to meet a gold standard in training, hiring, and de-escalation strategies; and we must end the militarization of our local law enforcement departments.
We also need to reexamine our budget priorities and invest in our communities, rather than treat every problem like it can be solved with more law enforcement. Police themselves have said that they are overextended. There needs to be a significant realignment of law enforcement responsibility so that social workers handle social issues and mental health experts handle mental health issues, instead of making the police line respond to all of societies’ ills. That requires providing federal funding to support social programs.
I strongly support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would achieve transformational, structural change to end the cycle of police violence. It includes critical changes like ending qualified immunity so police can be prosecuted for misconduct, de-militarizing the police by limiting the transfer of military weaponry to state and local police departments, combating police brutality by requiring body and dashboard cameras, banning chokeholds and ending the use of no-knock warrants, stepping up pressure on the Justice Department to address systemic racial discrimination by law enforcement and finally, making lynching a federal hate crime.
Criminal Justice Reform
As a defense attorney, I witnessed the inequities in our justice system firsthand. From mandatory minimums to the school to prison pipeline, the criminal justice system is one of the many systems in our country that perpetuates cycles of racial injustice. There should not be one justice system for those born rich or white, and another for those born poor or black. We cannot simply rely on bias training or police reform to eliminate these injustices. The flaws in our justice system demand significant changes, including ending unfair sentencing that involves nonviolent drug offenders, which disproportionately affects minorities. These sentences are often far out of proportion to the seriousness of the crimes committed, and reforming unfair nonviolent drug sentences must be at the heart of any serious criminal justice reform effort. Incarcerating large numbers of minorities for decades-long sentences tears our most vulnerable communities apart and makes it more difficult for them to break out of the cycle of poverty. Not only are many of these sentences inequitable, but they are costing American taxpayers $80 billion each year. I will continue to fight for a criminal justice system that protects the rights of all individuals and invests in practices proven to decrease crime and recidivism across the country.
Gun Violence Prevention
Rep. Quigley speaks at a rally calling for an end to gun violence.
For too long, our nation has been living with a gun violence epidemic. Nowhere is this more evident than in Chicago and it has resulted in tragedy and trauma in Black and brown communities at a disproportionate rate. If we wish to pursue racial justice, that must include bringing an end to the gun violence crisis.
Ending gun violence in America will require changes in our culture and revisions in our gun laws. I’m doing my part by supporting legislation requiring mandatory background checks on 100 percent of gun sales; limiting the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; improving the National Instant Background Check System to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill; requiring tougher penalties for criminals caught trafficking guns across state lines into Illinois; directing the Department of Justice study the correlation between domestic violence and mass shootings, and pushing for the ban to be lifted on federal agencies like the CDC from studying gun violence.
Republican leaders have suggested allowing federal forces to intervene in cities like Chicago but that’s not going to solve our problems. If Republicans are serious about helping curb violence in Chicago, the Senate should bring gun violence prevention legislation to the floor for a vote. What our city does need is more support for organizations that use violence interruption to reduce violent crime in communities. We need support for neighborhoods and residents from the federal government, not the threat of increased fear.
Voting and Civil Rights
Rep. Quigley speaks with Civil Rights icon, Rep. John Lewis.
There is no right in our country that is more sacred than the right to vote. Men and women throughout our history have fought, been beaten, imprisoned, and killed to ensure that all Americans can freely exercise their right to vote. Unfortunately, there are still those who are working to turn back the clock and undo the hard-won victories of our nation’s civil rights heroes. We owe it to leaders like John Lewis to do everything in our power to push back against those efforts and ensure that any barriers erected between Americans and the ballot box, are torn down.
Since 2013, many States have passed discriminatory voting laws that make it more difficult for people of color and low-income individuals to vote. We are witnessing an outbreak of voter suppression laws sweep across the country. From voter identification laws to voter roll purges, elected officials are making it harder for Americans to vote. After the devastating loss of Civil Rights icon John Lewis, I believe that the best way we can honor his legacy is through passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the Voting Rights Act and combat dangerous voter suppression, to ensure that no one who wants to cast their vote is unable to.
As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Chair of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee, it is one of my chief priorities to protect our elections from foreign interference so every American can trust that their voice is being heard. In an effort to combat attempted attacks on our democratic process, I co-sponsored the bipartisan PAPER Act to assist states as they strengthen the cybersecurity defenses of their election systems. The intelligence community has confirmed that Russian intelligence breached 39 states’ boards of elections, including in Illinois. I have been working with Illinois election officials at every level of government to discuss the vulnerabilities that still exist and the work that remains to strengthen and modernize our election infrastructure.