(By Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service). African American clergy gathered in Washington, D.C. today saying they are concerned about the political, racial, ethnic, economic and academic climate in America. The group held a news conference outside of the United Methodist Building, urging the new administration to take a second look at its policies and actions towards African Americans and other minority groups.
“We are concerned about the attitudes and behavior being perpetrated by those who should be role models for our children on how to conduct oneself in the public sphere,” said the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the PCUSA Office of Public Witness. “We are concerned over the poisoned political environment being polluted by the words, insults, alternative facts and distortions of truth coming out of the White House.”
Hawkins said he’s never seen an “alternative reality” like this, and is especially concerned about the actions and policies of the current administration.
“This election was ushered in by the most negative Inauguration speech uttered in generations and this presidency has been greeted by attacks on mosques and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries,” he said. “President Trump has appointed men and women as members of his cabinet, who, rather than proposing policies that enhance the public well being, generate controversy through the implication of policies which will do more harm than good.”
The clergy at today’s news conference, said their progress report of the administration’s work shows a failing grade with the budget, criminal justice, economics and employment, healthcare and race relations.
“The president’s budget proposes education cuts to Pell Grants received by nearly two-thirds of black undergraduates as well as to Job Corps, with more than half of its students being black,” said Hawkins. “To HUD’s Community Development Block Grants, with cuts in affordable housing, economic development, disaster relief, infrastructure and other services. To the Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of legal aid to low-income Americans and nearly 30 percent of their clients are black.”
Hawkins was critical of the administration’s positions on criminal justice, particularly the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He said Sessions has a 30-year record of “demonizing communities” and has built a career on disregarding the rule of law and fueling hostility toward the protection of civil rights.
“This nation deserves an attorney general who understands that prevention is better than imprisonment; communication is better than secrecy; equal treatment is better than inequality in sentencing; rehabilitation is better than retention,” said Hawkins. “Attorney General Sessions, if you are not a racist, prove it and be one that believes justice is the same for all people.”
Other areas where the group feels the president has failed include public education – specifically in inner cities and rural areas, employment opportunities for minorities, affordable and comprehensive healthcare, the integrity of African American women, improvement of race relations and the neglect of Africa, which struggles with human rights violations and corporate exploitation.
“We are actually more concerned that America is in graver danger than even the Russian hacking of our election and other external threats,” said the Rev. Barbara Williams Skinner of the African American Clergy Network. “There is a danger of moral decay that comes to adding $52 billion to an already bloated defense budget and cutting that same amount from life sustaining programs for children, the elderly, the sick and what I call an escalated war against the poor.”
Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland, director of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, said people who live in poverty are losing and as people of faith, she says they refuse to be silent about it.
“Poverty rates among African Americans and other people of color are consistently higher at every level than their white counterparts, whether its education, healthcare, criminal justice or tax reform,” she said. “In every area of policy proposed thus far, it has a negative impact on African Americans and those living in poverty.”
Copeland said the proposed $880 billion dollar cut in Medicaid will undercut public education, the work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and will “decimate the work that has been done to right the wrongs of the criminal justice system.”
The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Turner, pastor of Dayspring Community Church and former speechwriter for Surgeon General David Satcher, said that undoing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with “Trump Care” is “nasty and greedy” in its intent.
“As many as 24 million people stand to lose care under these new restrictions, and at the same time as these proposed cuts for non-millionaires occur, millionaires are being handed tax cuts averaging more than $50 thousand a year,” said Turner. “It is unconscionable that a nation with vast wealth and resources could be so morally, ethically and physically stingy when it comes to providing healthcare for all of its citizens. Healthcare is not a privilege; it is a right. Being sick is bad enough, but worrying about how to pay for care adds insult to injury.”
The clergy urges the president to do a number of things to change the direction the country is headed including:
- Promoting the creation of small business in urban centers
- Pushing banks to establish more small business loan opportunities
- Targeting bank lending and CRA standards and initiatives
- Making good on the promise to promote infrastructure projects
- Promoting urban real estate development
- Strengthening education
- Making race relations a priority
- Protecting voting rights
The group also asked the president to stop making immigrants responsible for “everything that goes wrong in America” and to stop tweeting.
(Above photo: The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Office of Public Witness, speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ray Chen)