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Obama Urges Congressional Black Caucus To Seek Bipartisan Support For Reforms

Rep. Lacy Clay
St. Louis Public Radio
Rep. William Lacy Clay spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives this morning about the tragic shooting in Arizona. (St. Louis Public Radio)

Missouri’s two members of the Congressional Black Caucus both say President Barack Obama encouraged members of the caucus to find Republican colleagues to help pass criminal justice system reforms sought by many in the group. 

U.S. Reps. Lacy Clay, D-University City, and Emanuel Cleaver, D- Kansas City, joined other members of the caucus late Tuesday for a 90-minute meeting at the White House with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Both men say the meeting covered a wide range of topics, including, trade, the economy, the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) and several proposed reforms stemming from the events in Ferguson and elsewhere that gave rise to the “Black Lives Matter” campaign.

Clay said he told the president about a meeting several caucus members had with Ferguson residents last month in which they listened to the residents’ concerns about the relations between local police and their community. 

“They don’t feel protected by the law.  They don’t feel as though this country operates under one law for all,” Clay said he told the president. 

Clay was also the featured speaker at a public forum at American University last night. There he also outlined his thoughts on lessons learned from events in Ferguson and where the U.S. should go from here. 

“Our country has been forever changed by the tragic police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner… and many other deaths of young, unarmed black men across this country,” Clay said in remarks prepared for last night's university event.

In his comments to the president and at last night’s forum, Clay said that he’s “convinced that at the heart of fixing this mess is changing the way that prosecutors handle cases when police use deadly force.”  Clay says the current grand jury process produces “zero consequences for a police officer who kills an unarmed black suspect, regardless of the circumstances.” 

But passing legislation appointing a special prosecutor may be a difficult task.  Clay and others in the black caucus back a proposal introduced by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., that would shift responsibility from a local state's attorney to a special prosecutor for investigating cases in which police use deadly force.

Emanuel Cleaver US Rep KC
Credit Official photo
Emanuel Cleaver

Cleaver said Obama “was very candid about what he believes should be done and the things that are not going to happen.”  Obama expressed his doubts about the likelihood of “passing some kind of law giving people permission to indict police officers, he kind of said that’s not going to happen,” said Cleaver.

"Frankly we all need to get away from the game playing that takes place here in Washington and that is introducing a bill is easy (but) getting a bill approved by both houses (of Congress) is a Herculean task," continued Cleaver.  "And I think the president is very realistic about what can and cannot happen.” 

Cleaver said he hopes that some reforms can pass, possibly in bringing greater transparency to the grand jury process.  Unlike Michael Brown’s shooting, Cleaver said the police choke-hold death of Eric Garner by a New York police officer was seen on video by millions.

“I think the whole country saw something in New York that caused a second thought about grand jury activity and transparency,” Cleaver said. 

The White House meeting with the black caucus came as the president awaits a report from his task force on 21st-century policing, due sometime early next month.  

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