Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. demands justice for black lives at KPU discussion
Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. (D-Mo.) focused on how the American justice system unfairly treats young black men and women at a Kennedy Political Union event held on Feb. 10 in the MGC University Club.
“[The police] don’t think they need to apologize for the men who leave home, who go to the store and wind up dead,” Clay said. “And they’re wrong, and they don’t even realize that they are the problem.”
During his career in Missouri’s state legislature and as a current U.S. congressman, Clay has advocated for LGBT rights, economic justice and racial equality. At the KPU discussion, Clay highlighted the disenfranchisement experienced by the black community at the hands of the police and in other situations.
“[Black men and women] are economically treated as second-class citizens,” Clay said. “They get paid less, they live in the worst neighborhoods and they are steered into segregated housing.”
While highlighting these injustices, Clay pointed out that the day of Michael Brown’s death acts as only a highlight, not the beginning, of the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement aims to broaden the conversation around “state violence” toward the black community, according to the Black Lives Matter website.
“The movement didn’t start on Aug. 9 when Michael Brown was killed,” Clay said. “This happened over generations and for most of these young people, their entire lives.”
Clay has a history of promoting legal and social reforms. In 2012, Clay advocated against congressional funding for a fence along the Mexican border and voted to allow undocumented children to attend public schools, The Eagle previously reported.
However, at the KPU discussion, he focused on helping his own community.
“I saw police officers pointing military snipers at my constituents and not protecting their rights,” Clay said. “History has repeated itself, and we now need to turn to the Federal government to seek justice.”
The discrimination that Clay has noticed within the American justice system has led him to push for congressional and social reforms. Clay and several other members from the Congressional Black Caucus want the Pentagon to revise its 1033 Program, which provides military weapons to local law enforcement.
Clay said the equipment given to local law enforcement under 1033 led to the unjust treatment he saw during the Ferguson demonstrations.
Although Clay said he realizes some people may consider the Ferguson protesters violent, he sympathizes with the protestors.
“Their style is not a style that I would adopt,” Clay said. “But I do understand their frustration and it has been there for a culmination of years.”
Before America can make any type of social progress, Clay said he believes that U.S. law enforcement officers should own up to their mistakes.
Clay said he plans to continue to fight for marginalized people despite the systematic prejudice he has seen in the American legal system toward the black community.
“I just want justice for Michael Brown’s family and his community,” Clay said. “I don’t care how long it takes. I want us to get to the facts.”
However, it is also about compromising when it comes to social justice, he said. After telling the audience a story that involved him voting for a government-funded Confederate cemetery, Clay said he often has to show political support for things he doesn’t necessarily agree with, in order to achieve his own goals.
“I knew the only way that I was going to be successful [in my state’s senate] was to interact with my colleagues and win them over,” Clay said. “And if you cannot change your mind, you cannot change the world.”