National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial called for criminal justice reform in the wake of the New York chokehold case.
“Economic justice and criminal justice reform go hand and hand in this country,” Morial said during a news conference on Friday in Philadelphia. “We’re at a point where problems, challenges and disparities within the criminal justice system have been exposed,”
This week’s decision by the grand jury not to bring criminal charges against New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner has sparked protests around the nation.
“The reaction we are seeing all over the nation is coming from people of all hues, people of all ages,” Morial said. “Those people are not just protesters in the Black community but they’re outraged about this seemingly lack of accountability when law officers are sworn to uphold the law.
“Because we say that police officers should be held accountable – this is not an attack on police. There are many good police officers in this country who do their job each and every day, who have never been involved in a plethora of citizens’ complaints, but in countries across the world where police and military are not held accountable, it is the beginning of repressive regimes.”
“We have a set of issues in this country crying out to be addressed. This is the time. We’ve got to make sure that what comes from this are substantive reforms. We have to have changes to the system of accountability,” he added.
On Thursday, 25 civil rights and social justice organizations announced a Dec. 13 march to the Justice Department in Washington. The organizations are planning to convene civil rights and social justice summit early next year.
“That civil rights and social justice summit will have as its objective substantive recommendations for the federal level and state level around criminal justice reform, police accountability reform and things we need to do to enhance economic opportunity to create jobs,” Morial said.
Morial said the Urban League and other organizations will be offering recommendations about criminal justice reform to President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing — a group of police and civic leaders charged with telling local and state governments how to appropriately enforce their laws in a period of growing civil unrest.
The Urban League supports efforts such as having police use body and dash cameras, however Morial said reform must go beyond those measures.
He said there a number of issues that must be addressed including the war on drugs which focuses on arresting people for small drug offenses and the impact of minor arrests on a person’s ability to obtain employment. He said every city and state should be reviewing local laws and police procedures that can be reformed.
Morial’s remarks came during a press conference held to highlight Philadelphia as one of the organization’s Jobs Rebuild America cities. The the national office gave the Urban League of Philadelphia a five-year $1 million community investment as a part of its historic “Jobs Rebuild America: Educate, Employ, Empower” initiative. The initiative is a comprehensive approach to the nation’s employment and education crisis and brings together federal, government, business and nonprofit resources to create economic opportunity in 50 communities nationwide through the Urban League affiliate network.
“This considerable public and private investment is important for our community as we are committed to ensuring that our small business sector and youth are prepared to fully participate in Philadelphia’s economy,” said Rosalyn McPherson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Urban League. “As we continually seek to better serve the needs of Philadelphians, we have created a 21st century model of entrepreneurship support to reach hundreds of entrepreneurs who are creating jobs in our city, while providing key products and services to our community and beyond.”
The funding will be used for the organization’s Entrepreneurship Center, Project Ready and the Equity and Excellence Project.
During the press conference, Victoria Tyson, owner of Victoria’s Kitchen and James Eley, owner of Eley Electrical Contractors LLC, addressed how working with the group’s entrepreneurship center helped expand their respective businesses.
The Urban League was instrumental in pushing for the passage of a bipartisan jobs bill that would enable millions of unemployed and underemployed workers and urban youths to receive job and skills training. The focus on job creation and entrepreneurship comes as the United States added 321,000 new jobs in November, marking the biggest gain in nearly three years.
The Urban League of Philadelphia also held its 12th annual Whitney M. Young Luncheon Jr. Community Empowerment Awards Luncheon under the theme “The Bridge to Possibility Empowering and Connecting for 97 Years.”
The luncheon paid homage to the late Whitney M. Young Jr., who served as national president of the group from 1961 to 1971. Young was committed to empowerment and justice for urban communities and spent his adult life fighting segregation, inequality and marginalization of African Americans.
During the luncheon, local leaders were honored, including Julie Coker Graham, executive vice president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor Bureau, who received the Business Leader Award; Maria Pajil Battle, president of AmeriHealth Caritas, who received the Volunteer Award; Damien M. Ghee, vice president/relationship manager-middle market lending, TD Bank and graduate of ULP’s Urban League Leadership program, who received the Urban Leader Under 40 Award.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania was the recipient of the Community Leader Empowerment Award, which was accepted by CEO Marcus Allen. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center was the recipient of the Community Service Award, which was accepted by Dr. Kim Smith-Whitley, medical director of CHOP’s sickle cell clinical program.
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