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Lawmakers to revive proposal for federal commission tasked with examining America’s history of racism

Two Democratic lawmakers will reintroduce legislation Thursday calling for the formation of the first federal racial justice commission tasked with examining the country’s history of systemic racism against Black people, addressing inequities and backing efforts to provide reparations for slavery.

Rep. Barbara Lee of California, who first proposed the creation of a US Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation last summer following the police killing of George Floyd, will bring the bill back to the House and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey will revive it in the Senate.

The bill garnered 169 co-sponsors in the House, however, it did not make it to the floor before the end of the 116th Congress. Booker first introduced the Senate version in December which also never made it to the floor.

Lee said the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and racial reckoning last year laid bare many of the disparities Black people face and that now is the time to repair the damage. She said having conversations about the country’s racist past will be the key to progress.

“I think people are ready to try to understand the connection with systemic racism and 401 years ago when the first enslaved African(s) … were brought to America,” Lee told CNN. “We have to help people understand and bring forth this body of evidence so we can move forward.”

Lee said her hope is that the commission can determine what policies will help close the wealth gap, address the disproportionate number of Black Americans who face unemployment and mass incarceration, improve health care access and combat vaccine hesitancy in the Black community.

The Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation would also support a bill that proposes a separate commission to study reparations and recommend remedies for the harm caused by slavery and discriminatory policies, Lee said. A House Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing last week to discuss creating the reparations commission.

Booker said both commissions are necessary to “root out systemic racism in our institutions, creating proposals for addressing and repairing for past harm.”

“To realize our nation’s promise of being a place for liberty and justice for all, we must acknowledge and address the systemic racism and White supremacy that have been with us since our country’s founding and continue to persist in our laws, our policies and our lives to this day,” Booker said.

The formation of the US Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation has garnered the support of civil rights activists and celebrities.

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the commission would “ensure reparations are central to this country’s transformation and create systemic change.”

“The long-standing and persistent threat of violent White nationalism, disparities and racial discrimination exposed by Covid-19 and rampant police brutality are the fruit of a poisonous tree of slavery, and structural racism and discrimination,” Henderson said. “That tree — the tree of racism writ large — must be destroyed root and branch.”

Earlier this year, several celebrities including Alicia Keys, T.I., Beyoncé and Chris Rock released a video advocating for the creation of the commission. The stars highlighted the police killings of Black people who they said were targeted while doing ordinary activities. Among the victims named were Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Botham Jean, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The video urged President Joe Biden to form the commission in the first 100 days of his administration “to address and correct racial injustices.”

Stevie Wonder also released a video in January backing the commission.

“We need a truth commission that forces this country to look at its lies,” Wonder said. “I’m calling on President Biden and Vice President Harris to launch a formal government investigation to establish the truth of inequality in this country … without truth we cannot have accountability.”

Lee said celebrity support is valuable in spreading the message about why the commission is needed.

“People listen to them,” Lee said. “Their voices are more important than any voices in terms of connecting people.”

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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