Commentary: Delaware is speaking up, and we must listen

By Chris Coons

Since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minnesota, Delawareans and Americans across the country have taken to the streets to express their outrage and demand change. These protests, though, are not only a response to one instance of police brutality. The protesters in the streets and the tens of millions of Americans who support them are speaking out to finally identify and address systemic racism ingrained in our culture and our laws that have plagued Black communities for generations.

Each of us has a role to play in creating the kinds of change we need to see, but one thing we can all do better is simple: listening.

Black communities have been speaking out for decades about the racism and inequality they face every day, but for too long, Americans — and in particular, white Americans — haven’t listened, at least not enough.

That’s why I launched the #DelawareSpeaksUp campaign on my social media accounts last month and invited all Delawareans — but in particular, Delawareans of our Black and brown communities — to share their voices, their stories and their perspectives. I had two goals in mind: first, to listen to these voices, and second, to use my platform as a U.S. senator to raise up these voices and help everyone in Delaware hear them.

The campaign has been enlightening, challenging and inspiring. While I can’t describe all the videos here, it’s worth highlighting some of the most compelling submissions.

Kevin McCove shared a message about the barriers that Black Americans face at the ballot box. By discussing everything from unfair voting practices and voter suppression to felony voting restrictions that disproportionately prevent Black Americans from making their voices heard, Kevin shared a compelling message about why our election system is not truly representative of our country. Kevin is right. Black Americans face several hurdles to the ballot box, and those hurdles were not placed there by accident. I’m fighting in Washington to expand access to voting in several ways, from passing the Voting Rights Restoration Act to expanding vote-by-mail and early voting, which would help ensure that everyone, regardless of their health, income or skin color, is able to cast their ballot — even during a pandemic. Thankfully, Delaware’s Legislature just passed legislation to allow vote-by-mail for this fall’s primary and general elections, and Gov. John Carney has signed it into law.

Evelyn Brady submitted a video describing the fact that George Floyd’s homicide is part of a decades-long trend. While we now see cellphone video evidence of police brutality and all kinds of violence against Black Americans, that wasn’t always the case. Evelyn remembered so many other Black citizens whose deaths were not caught on video. With that history in mind, Evelyn called for real change to the ways police interact with citizens, saying, “Let no more Black citizens die at the hands of those who are sworn to serve and protect.” Evelyn’s message is one of the many reasons I’m supporting the Justice in Policing Act, which would make significant and long-overdue reforms to our policing system. It would increase accountability for law enforcement misconduct, enhance transparency and data collection, eliminate discriminatory policing practices and much more. The bill has already been passed by the House, and I’m working with my colleagues to pass it through the Senate, too.

Logan Herring has dedicated his life and career to the city of Wilmington, and in particular, Wilmington’s Riverside community, which has been underserved for far too long. Logan, who helps lead the REACH Riverside initiative, submitted an inspiring video, in which he discussed the need to make real and lasting investments in Black communities and ensure that every Black child growing up in our state and our country has the resources — from good schools and safe streets to community institutions — to grow and succeed. I couldn’t agree more with Logan, and that’s why I’m working to ensure that in our efforts to end systemic racism, we’re also focusing on comprehensive strategies like the Purpose Built Communities model, adequately funding schools in underserved communities, changing our housing policies so communities of color can achieve homeownership and build wealth, and so much more.

These are just a few of the many video messages that I’ve received over the last month, and I’m so grateful to every Delawarean who has used their voice over these past months to call for change and stand up against racism and injustice in our country. I’ve been listening, and I hear you. I’m going to keep listening, and in the weeks and months ahead, I’m also prepared to act. Listening is only the start, and that’s why I’m going to continue doing everything I can in Washington to pass legislation that will address the needs and concerns of our Black neighbors and erase the systems that have oppressed Black communities for generations.

Chris Coons, D-Del., is the junior senator from Delaware in the U.S. Congress. You can watch more of the #DelawareSpeaksUp video submissions on Sen. Coons’ Instagram page.