Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The black community matters, and black votes matter, which is why I publicly and proudly support Hillary Clinton for president. She has the record, foresight, and passion to improve the lives of millions of African-Americans.
This was not a hard decision.
Four out of five black adults in this country have a favorable opinion of Clinton. Black support for her is far stronger than for any other candidate. And it’s well deserved: In her commitment to reforming our criminal justice system, expanding voting rights, creating jobs and economic opportunities, and enhancing workplace diversity, Clinton’s goals align closely with those of the Congressional Black Caucus and the black community as a whole.
This past summer in South Carolina, Clinton used words you never hear from Republican candidates and acknowledged our country’s “serious problems with race and justice and systematic racism.”
Those problems are severe. 1.5 million black men are victims of violence or locked behind bars. Every day, black teens in this country face racial profiling and racialized violence. Decades-old laws disproportionately punish low-level drug offenders, many of whom are African-American.
Clinton has long fought for justice. As a young lawyer in Arkansas, she worked with juvenile offenders in the Children’s Defense Fund and at a legal aid clinic at the University of Arkansas. As a Senator, she introduced a “second chance program” to rehabilitate troubled minors.
On the campaign trail, Clinton has laid out a series of proposals to reform our criminal justice system.
Among other things, she has called to end racial profiling, attach body cameras to police officers, shorten mandatory minimum sentences, and eliminate the legal distinction between crack and cocaine. She has met with community leaders like Jesse Jackson and with mothers of gun violence victims. And she understands, along with so many in our community, that restoring justice is the first step toward building trust. Her policies can help repair a broken system.
Voting rights are equally important. I still remember that day in 1957 when racist laws in my home state weakened black votes and forced my father out of office. That experience convinced me to become a lawyer, judge, and legislator, so I could help ensure equal representation for the black community.
We’re a long way from 1957, but our election system is still broken. A recent Supreme Court decision weakened the longstanding Voting Rights Act, and Republicans continue to dilute black votes in the name of supposed fraud prevention. Voter ID laws, inconvenient election dates, and lack of early voting options all combine to separate black people from the voting booth.
Clinton has long been an advocate for voting reform. She recently pressed Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act in all its power. She also called for universal voter registration, whereby every American is automatically registered to vote upon turning eighteen. And, as a Senator, Clinton wrote the Count Every Vote Act, which would have made Election Tuesday a federal holiday, allowing hardworking citizens to cast votes without risking their jobs.
Clinton also realizes there are stark economic and employment challenges facing our community. Persistent poverty, perennially high unemployment, and lower wages have continued to plague African-Americans across the country, threatening our ability to achieve the American Dream. Clinton has long been committed to raising incomes, and understands the need for strong job growth and long-term growth in the economy to ensure prosperity, economic security and opportunity are accessible for today’s working families.
Finally, Clinton understands the power of diversity in the workplace. Over a third of her campaign staff and nearly 40 percent of her senior staff are people of color. Those numbers matter, especially in a presidential election. In a 2011 Forbes study, 85 percent of large global enterprises agreed or strongly agreed that office diversity leads to increased innovation. A staff that reflects the country’s diversity also sends a positive message to minority men and women who aspire to higher office.
Hillary Clinton understands the needs of our community. From fixing the criminal justice system and reforming the voting process to creating jobs and promoting a diverse workplace, Clinton’s ambitions match our own. Of all the candidates, she is best positioned to better African-American lives.
Representative G. K. Butterfield represents the First Congressional District of North Carolina and serves as Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).