The Delaware Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday announced a Justice For All Agenda of legislative priorities to address the systemic racial injustice and police brutality that has impacted people of color in the First State for far too long.
Dover (DE): The groundbreaking Justice For All Agenda includes proposals that seek to protect Delawareans from discrimination, create model policies and enhanced accountability for police departments throughout the state and set the stage for future social justice reforms.
“We, as the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus, are acutely aware of our policy making role, and the opportunity before us to improve public systems and eliminate the disparate impact felt by black and brown Delawareans served by them,” the 8-member, bicameral caucus said in a joint statement.
“In this moment, we believe our actions to do so will speak much louder than our words. As such, we’re presenting the following Justice for All Agenda to work with our colleagues to expand our efforts beyond what is already underway and respond to the urgency we feel ourselves and see expressed by our constituents.”
The agenda announced Wednesday is the result of a collaborative effort between the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus, leaders of the General Assembly, the Governor’s Office, the Delaware Department of Justice, the Office of Defense Services and other stakeholder groups.
“It’s our obligation as leaders and elected officials to make sure that the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color in Delaware improves. And it’s our obligation to get serious about addressing the issues of inequality that are giving rise to racial justice demonstrations in Delaware and across our country,” said Governor John Carney. “The anger and frustration are real. We should recognize the ugly history around race in Delaware and across our country, and work together in good faith to make meaningful change.”
“Systemic racism is alive and well in America. This is a time of tremendous pain for our country, particularly for Black and Brown Americans who have suffered a seemingly endless march of brutality and tragedy,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said. “But it’s a time of equally tremendous hope. It has been decades since I’ve seen a moment like this – one where righteous anger is married to the motivation for timely change. I am in awe of what I am witnessing in our country – and I know the gravity of our decisions in this moment. This is not a time for bunker mentalities or for special interests to hold sway. It’s time for us to capture this moment, to show the courage to change, and to prove that Black lives matter to us.”
The Justice for All Agenda includes, but is not limited to, the following:
• Passage of Senate Bill 191, the first leg of an amendment to the Delaware Constitution that would explicitly make protection against discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin a fundamental right.
• Establishment of an African American Task Force entrusted with exploring the disparities experienced by people of color throughout Delaware and proposing remedies to address those inequities, including a commitment to significant, restorative investments in historically Black communities over the next 5 years.
• Banning knee holds, choke holds and similar acts of applying force or pressure against the trachea, windpipe, carotid artery or jugular vein unless deadly force is necessary.
• Requiring that body camera devices be used by all law enforcement agencies in Delaware and mandating that those devices be activated from the beginning to the end of all interactions with suspects or witnesses.
• Prohibiting Delaware law enforcement agencies from releasing mug shots or other photographs of juvenile defendants.
• Requiring that all Delaware law enforcement agencies video record all interrogations of juvenile suspects and defendants except under certain circumstances.
• Amending to the Delaware Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights to allow criminal defendants’ legal counsel to receive internal affairs investigation records of law enforcement officers accused of wrongdoing.
• Establishment of a Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force made up of a wide range of stakeholders, including police officers and impacted citizens, assigned with considering additional issues and proposals regarding the use of force, civil rights protections, transparency and community policing.
The work of both task forces proposed in the Justice For All Agenda would extend beyond the 150th General Assembly.
Several members of the General Assembly and others vowed Wednesday to support the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus’s agenda.
“We must do more to make our criminal justice system fair and equitable, and I fully support the agenda put forward today,” said Delaware Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride. “Last year, I co-sponsored over a dozen criminal justice reform bills and I pledge to continue our work to balance the scales and create a system that truly guarantees justice for all.”
“The conversations that we are beginning today are going to be difficult and uncomfortable for many of us to have, but we must have them. These discussions have to be painful to be meaningful. We must make the changes that thousands of Delaware residents are demanding right now,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf. “I believe that the steps we are discussing today have the potential to be transformative. Instead of incremental change, we can work together to take bold leaps forward toward a more just and equitable system for all. It won’t be perfect, and it will be messy at times, but we must be honest and continue working toward our goal.”
“Wilmington has heard the voices calling for change and reform,” said Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki. “The massive worldwide movement to eliminate egregious police actions against people of color will continue until there is more respect and understanding for each other through policies and actions that produce racial justice. No person of color should ever have to fear a police officer or expect anything but equal treatment and justice. Wilmington’s policing policies are open for review, and while we have already implemented widely accepted policing standards, we will continue to make additional changes as needed.”
“I’ve been a defense attorney for decades and my experience has taught me that oftentimes the criminal justice system is neither fair, nor color blind, nor balanced,” said Brendan O’Neill, Chief Defender at the Office of Defense Services. “These proposed reforms are a start at tackling the systemic racism and inequity that plague our criminal justice system. Our office represents roughly 85 percent of criminal defendants in Delaware and the majority of our clients are people of color. They are at a disadvantage the minute they come into police contact. We need to fix that. This is a good first step.”