July 28 (UPI) — Lawmakers in the U.S. House on Monday overwhelmingly passed legislation to create a new commission to study the societal struggles of Black men and boys in the United States.
The new Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act would authorize a bipartisan, 19-member commission made up of lawmakers, agency representatives and non-government advocates to look at policies and circumstances that create barriers for Black men and youth to participate fully in American life, supporters said.
“The commission will review police brutality, gun violence, fatherhood, recruiting and training Black male teachers, and even sneakers, which play an important role in the lives of Black boys,” sponsor Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla. said in a statement Monday.
“Too often [Black boys] are perceived as criminals by the time they reach the age of 5. They’re labeled delinquent, not rowdy. They are hardened criminals, not misguided youth. Their very existence is often seen as a threat. It is a tragic reality that Black males in America are treated as their own class of citizens,” Wilson added.
The proposed commission would create a yearly report to Congress with policy recommendations.
The bill passed by a 368-to-1 vote. The lone nay vote was cast by Rep. Mo Brooks, R.-Ala. Companion legislation in the Senate has been co-sponsored by Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J.
Wilson said she felt “bittersweet” that the passage of the bill was not witnessed by the late Rep. John Lewis, who died last week at age 80. The late Georgia Democrat was a supporter of the bill, which was first introduced several years ago.
The police-involved deaths of George Floyd and others and the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the country have pushed forth interest in structural inequalities based on race, said supporters.
“As we witness the deadly outcomes of interactions between Black men and police from Walter Scott to George Floyd, we must seek comprehensive reforms that will change this narrative,” said Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., in a statement. “Police reforms are necessary, but we must also restructure the system that has adversely impacted Black men since birth.”
North Dakota Republican Rep. Kelly Armstrong said his experience as a defense attorney showed him that the legal system treated Black males differently.
“As a defense attorney, I saw how sentence disparities on drug crimes, minimum mandatory sentencing, school board sentencing, pretrial release policies often had racial impacts,” Kelly said, as reported by The Hill.
“By creating a bipartisan commission to study inequality in government programs, we take the necessary steps to identify and address disparities for Black American men and boys,” Kelly added.