Senator Elizabeth Warren embraced the Black Lives Matter protest movement in a forceful speech in Boston on Sunday, calling on police departments to train their officers in the de-escalation of violence and to outfit them with body cameras.
Warren, speaking at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, emphasized that most police officers serve honorably. But she did not mince words in describing the police brutality that has become a national topic of conversation.
“We have seen sickening videos of unarmed, black Americans cut down by bullets, choked to death while gasping for air — their lives ended by those who are sworn to protect them,” she said. “Peaceful, unarmed protesters have been beaten. Journalists have been jailed. And, in some cities, white vigilantes with weapons freely walk the streets.”
The speech, a high-profile endorsement of the anti-police-brutality movement by one of the nation’s most prominent politicians, combined Warren’s signature concern with economic inequality with a treatise on the damaging effects of racism.
The senator spoke of a history of subpar wages for black people and redlining in the housing market.
“Economic justice has not ever been sufficient to ensure racial justice,” she said. “Owning a home won’t stop someone from burning a cross on the front lawn. Admission to school won’t prevent a beating on the sidewalk outside.” But Martin Luther King Jr., she noted, once wrote that he’d learned “the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice.”
Warren spoke of a growing wealth gap between white and black families and a complaint filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance against real estate agents in Mississippi, alleging they consistently steered white families away from interracial neighborhoods and black families away from well-to-do areas.
Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., a professor at Harvard Law School who has written about Black Lives Matter, said he is not surprised Warren embraced the movement. But he said her rhetoric stands out. “Politicians have shied away from acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement,” he said, noting that the same was true of the civil rights movement.
Warren, in her speech, positioned the protest as an heir to the civil rights movement.
Black Lives Matter, which grew out of protests in Ferguson, Mo., over the police shooting of Michael Brown, has become part of the presidential campaign, disrupting speeches by Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. Hillary Clinton had a backstage encounter with activists that got national attention.
Warren said Sunday “pervasive and persistent distrust” of police in black communities “is not based on myths.” It is “grounded in the reality of unjustified violence,” she said.
“Listen to the brave, powerful voices of today’s new generation of civil rights leaders. Incredible voices,” she said. “Watch them when they march through the streets, ‘hands up don’t shoot’ — not to incite a riot, but to fight for their lives. To fight for their lives.
“This is the reality that all of us must confront, as uncomfortable and as ugly as that reality may be. It comes to us once again to affirm that black lives matter, that black citizens matter, that black families matter.”