Commentary: Delaware legislators back measures against discrimination

We, the undersigned, submit this open letter as elected Delaware legislators who have been appalled by police actions of the last few weeks. We have been equally appalled by the attempt to shift focus to “looters,” seemingly to distract attention from the cry of racism and Black disenfranchisement.

The recent events surrounding and following the brutal public murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by four members of that city’s police force have once more brought into focus a certain unforgiveable inhumanity that exists. It’s time for political leaders who are not persons of color to stop simply saying “we understand, we feel your pain, we feel your frustration” and all the other cliches that we so often use to suggest empathy and sympathy. We are privileged, but privilege comes at the expense of those who are deprived. Privilege also carries a responsibility, and we must make changes, dramatic changes, life-altering changes, and we must make them today.

As legislators who are not persons of color, we have a duty to our constituents, our children and our fellow legislators who are persons of color to not only speak out, but take action. We must show our commitment to ending racism and economic injustice. We can and must do more. We have a duty to be the leaders that our constituents elected us to be. We must address racial disparities. We must be brave enough to put our voices forth and commit to change. We are going to be the change that we need to be.

We have always been stunned by the suggestion that it is the fault of the underdog that they do not do enough to help themselves or make changes. It is never the responsibility of the oppressed to be the catalyst. It is the duty of the suppressor to change and for elected leaders to ensure that these changes occur.

Legislators can and must make critical changes in law to reverse cultural discrimination and economic disenfranchisement.

We will be working with our colleagues to propose a Bill of Rights, encompassing legislation and policies that will help ensure basic economic and social fairness. Following is a list of some of those proposals but note that the list is not all-encompassing.

• Total commitment to the “Justice For All Agenda” announced by Delaware’s Black Legislative Caucus at its June 10 press conference.

• Revisit and reform the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights to allow more transparency and oversight that is inadequate in the current version.

• Amend criminal statutes governing excessive uses of force to hold police officers accountable for reckless behavior.

• Reviewing training and education of officers. Training academies for all law enforcement must review current use-of-force training standards for law enforcement and develop model training standards to ensure that all officers receive the best instruction in their interactions with the public.

• Create mental health initiatives and offer targeted mental health supports for officers to deal with trauma and reduce stigma for getting help.

• Strengthening of rules for police to live by regarding interactions with minority community members, training for police and swift punishment when they do not abide by civil obedience laws.

• Encourage and assist municipalities and counties in the creation of local citizen advisory boards.

• Help hotlines and follow-up for minorities and families who have been mis-served.

• Creation of a Delaware State Law Enforcement Advisory Commission that reviews allegations of misconduct by law enforcement personnel.

• $15 per hour minimum wage.

• Equal access to health care.

Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark
Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana
Rep. Gerald Brady, D-Wilmington
Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow
Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark
Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington
Rep. Ray Seigfried, D-Arden
Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark
Rep John Viola, D-Newark

EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter was also sent to Gov. John Carney, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, Attorney General Kathy Jennings, Chief Defender Brendan O’Neill, the Delaware General Assembly, U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., the Delaware chapter of the NAACP, the Delaware chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League.