Tag: Social Justice

The Gun Control Debate: What Debate?

Too often, when you raise the issue of guns in this country, it sparks highly divisive rhetoric with both sides drawing lines in the sand and pointing their arrows at each other. Caught in the middle, we see the faces and hear the voices of children who’ve witnessed the slaughter of their friends and teachers and who are crying out for action. The question is, will we hear them? Will we care enough to do something about it?

Horrific tragedies like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School just over one month ago is something that touches every one of us, regardless of political party or ideology. Sadly, it is something that could happen to any community, family, or school. This is why it’s so important that the humanity and aloha (respect and care) that unites us all must come to the forefront of our dialogue as we try to prevent these tragedies from ever occurring again.

On February 14th, 17 lives were lost in Parkland when a former classmate brought an AR-15 to school and opened fire on the students and teachers. He used a weapon that he had purchased legally – but he shouldn’t have been able to.

There have been more shootings since that day, and there will be more in the coming weeks and years if we don’t come together and find solutions. Survivors and allies across the country have gathered in a show of solidarity, calling for change – to do whatever possible to prevent more of these horrific tragedies from occurring and taking innocent lives. They have organized country-wide protests and walk-outs, and on March 24th thousands will march on Washington and at marches across the country. We are proud to stand with these courageous young people today and every day.

But Congress has yet to act.

The majority of people across this country believe that we need to pass common sense gun safety legislation. A Gallup poll found that two thirds (67%) of Americans feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict; A Quinnipiac University poll found that over six in ten Americans (63%) support stricter gun laws in the United States; And a CNN poll found that seven-in-ten Americans (69%) favor stricter gun control laws.

There are a number of legislative actions that have been proposed but have yet to see the light of day on the House floor. Passing this legislation would be a step in the right direction to protecting our kids and innocent people across this country:

Restrict Access to Assault Weapons

Semi-automatic weapons have been, by far, the most used weapon in mass shootings in recent history. They are used for a number of reasons: they are easy to acquire, and they are designed to kill a lot of people in a short amount of time. The shooter who killed 59 people in Las Vegas on October 1st last year used a semi-automatic gun modified with a bump stock, turning it into an automatic rifle. The 19-year-old shooter who killed 17 people at his former school on February 14th of this year used an AR-15, a semi-automatic weapon.

The fact assault weapons are so frequently used to kill enormous numbers of people in this country, and that bump stocks are not illegal, are issues that we must address. A Quinnipiac University poll found that six in ten Americans (61%) support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, and an NPR-Ipsos poll found that 82% support banning bump stocks.

Restrict Access to High Capacity Ammunition Magazines

High-capacity ammunition magazines are frequently used by mass shooters in the United States. The Giffords Law Center explains that “shooters with such magazines can fire at large numbers of people without taking the time to reload, those in the line of fire do not have a chance to escape, law enforcement does not have the chance to intervene, and the number of lives shattered by senseless acts of gun violence increases dramatically.”

“Despite the public’s lack of trust in Congress, the American public has not given up hope that change can happen.”

A majority of Americans believe that access to these high-capacity ammunition magazines should be banned. A CNN poll found that over six-in-ten (63%) Americans favor a ban on the sale and possession of equipment known as high-capacity or extended ammunition magazines. A Quinnipiac University poll similarly found that over six in ten (63%) of Americans support a nationwide ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Increase Legal Age to Buy A Gun

In America, licensed firearm dealers are allowed to sell a gun to an 18-year old, before a bartender is legally allowed to sell that person an alcoholic drink or before they are able to rent a car. To make matters worse, unlicensed persons are legally allowed to sell, deliver, or otherwise transfer a long gun (rifles and shotguns) to a person of any age. This irony is not lost on Americans, causing a vast majority of respondents to believe that the legal age to buy a gun should be increased to 21. A CNN poll found that seven-in-ten (71%) Americans favor preventing people under the age of 21 from buying any type of gun, while a Quinnipiac University poll found that almost 8-in-10 (78%) of Americans support requiring individuals to be 21 years of age or older in order to purchase a gun.

Universal Background Checks

Currently, there is a gaping loophole in federal firearm laws regarding background checks.   While federal laws require licensed gun dealers to perform background checks, federal law does not require unlicensed sellers (like private sellers, and those who sell online and at gun shows) to run background checks. According to the Giffords Law Center, “A 2017 study estimated that 42% of US gun owners acquired their most recent firearm without a background check.” This allows people who might otherwise have been prevented from accessing a gun, to easily acquire one.

In addition, The Washington Post reported in 2017 that “The FBI’s background-check system is missing millions of records of criminal convictions, mental illness diagnoses and other flags that would keep guns out of potentially dangerous hands.” In addition to requiring universal background checks, we must make sure that the database is complete and those who should be flagged, are. For example, I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation to close a loophole that has allowed those who’ve been convicted of domestic violence charges to purchase firearms.

A Monmouth University poll found that over eight-in-ten (83%) Americans support requiring comprehensive background checks for all gun purchasers. A Quinnipiac University poll found that almost all Americans (97%) support requiring background checks for all gun buyers.

While a majority of Americans want the government to implement many of these common-sense gun safety measures, they don’t have much hope that Congress will take action.  Three quarters of Americans (75%) think that Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence, while only 17% think Congress is doing enough. This disapproval is not relegated to one party. A majority of Americans disapprove of how both Republicans (70%) and Democrats (70%) are handling the issue of gun violence. Mass shootings including those at Sandy Hook, the Pulse nightclub, and the Las Vegas concert, each a devastating demonstration of inhumanity of gun violence, resulted in no significant legislation.

“This is not and should not be a partisan or divisive issue.”

The American people’s lack of faith in the ability of Congress to pass common-sense gun control measures is, unfortunately, founded in reality. Instead of discussing and passing many of these common-sense and favored ways to mitigate gun violence in America, some politicians are talking about arming teachers and bringing more guns into schools. This defies reason. On March 13th of this year, a teacher accidentally fired a gun in a classroom and injured a student, demonstrating the increased possibility of accidents throughout the country if this were made universal. For this and other reasons, almost six in ten (58%) Americans oppose allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns on school grounds.

Despite the public’s lack of trust in Congress, the American public has not given up hope that change can happen. 77% of Americans think that the students from Parkland, Florida, who are speaking out about the shooting at their high school and the issue of gun violence, will have an impact on gun safety reform in this country.

Here is the bottom line: Congress needs to act now, and pass legislation to help improve our gun safety laws. And law enforcement must enforce those laws. The shooter in Parkland was flagged by numerous people who had concerns about what was clearly a serious mental illness, and even made reports to the FBI.  The FBI failed to act, and no one has been held accountable. Local law enforcement failed to act quickly to take out the shooter when responding to the scene. Passing these laws is imperative, but such action is useless unless these laws are implemented and enforced.

This is not and should not be a partisan or divisive issue. People on all sides of this debate felt pain and sadness as our nation mourned the loss of those 17 lives in Parkland. The only way we can really solve the problems is by recognizing that we are all Americans, and we all want safe communities–a place where we can raise our families, where our children aren’t faced with the fear of a shooting when they go to school every day.  We must stop demonizing each other, and instead respect each other’s humanity, and work together to find common ground. It is up to each and every one of us to choose whether we will act in love and light or darkness and hate. By focusing on the love and care that we have for one another, we can bring about real change.

How I Plan To Address Police Violence In Black Communities

My son is only 5 years old and we’ve already had “the talk.” I can recall being a little older when my grandfather, a probation officer, had the same talk with me. It’s the same talk that has been given time and again in black families following the deaths of Eric Garner, Terence Crutcher and Michael Brown, all unarmed black civilians who lost their lives at the hands of police.

When Baltimore City erupted into riots following the death of Freddie Gray, I found myself in the basement of a local church having a larger version of the talk. In that basement, dozens of young activists had gathered to protest what they viewed as another example of excessive police force taking the life of an unarmed black person. I wanted them to know how to be safe while peacefully making their voices heard.

Following the election of Donald Trump, I was inspired to go back to my activist roots. I had already led the NAACP and, before that, spent decades as a civil rights leader and community organizer. As I thought through how I wanted to contribute in the Trump era, I thought back to my talk with my son, my grandfather’s talk with me and the talk I gave those young activists in Baltimore.

With Trump in the White House and Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, I decided to launch my campaign for governor of Maryland in part because the times require elected leaders who understand these issues and have the courage to act. Only then can we finally have a generation where, perhaps, “the talk” won’t be needed.

We have a long way to go, but we can stop the killings of unarmed civilians at the hands of police and, in doing so, make our communities safer. The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers are good and decent people, but their reputations and ability to do their jobs effectively are tarnished by a small number of bad officers who don’t deserve to wear a badge.

The actions of these bad officers have resulted in senseless deaths and millions of dollars in police settlements—money that could have been used to help educate our children. For these reasons and so much more, we can’t have the 2018 elections come and go without challenging every candidate for office to put forward his or her plan to address police misconduct and the killings of unarmed civilians.

My plan for Maryland is one that could be adopted in whole or in part in any state. Entitled Building Trust, the plan calls for increased civilian oversight, both in any specific instance when an officer is accused of misconduct and more broadly to provide input into how police departments should be structured and relate to their communities. I also call for a special prosecutor’s office that oversees all allegations of police misconduct and ensures that the often cozy relationship between the police officers who commit crimes and those charged with punishing them is no more.

Should a police settlement occur, my plan would end the practice of nondisclosure agreements so that victims of police brutality are not silenced. My plan would also create a public database that tracked every instance of police use of force so that this information is easily accessible and searchable. This reduces the chances that an officer with a troubled past will be able to move from one jurisdiction to another without scrutiny.

Building Trust is not just the title of this plan; it is essential if we are to stop the killings of unarmed civilians, end police corruption and improve public safety. Trust becomes tattered when officers are insufficiently trained and unaccountable to civilian oversight, and when those who violate the public’s trust are too often protected by a pervasive culture of impunity. In this plan we outline key ways that state and local governments can implement key reforms to create strong bonds of trust between communities and the police departments sworn to protect them.

Building Trust seeks to break the false dichotomy that improving public safety has to come at the price of justice, or that if you are opposed to police misconduct, you are anti-police. My grandfather’s example demonstrates that most officers are hardworking individuals seeking to protect our communities. We owe it to them to give them the proper training they need and to root out those within their ranks who fail to live up to their badges.

We should not allow any official seeking public office to secure our vote without them first listing in detail where they stand on this basic issue of fairness, justice and public safety. We need members of Congress who will stand up to Trump and Sessions, and we need leaders at the state level who will replace those in leadership who have been silent on these issues. I hope to achieve that for Maryland by defeating our current governor, Larry Hogan, who continues to be silent despite the unrest that occurred in our state’s largest city following the death of Freddie Gray, and a recent police corruption trial that showed how broken the Baltimore City Police Department is.

We can end corruption, stop the killings of unarmed civilians and finally create the trust that will provide the safety we need in our neighborhoods. There is no shortage of solutions to these problems, just a shortage of leaders with the courage to address them head-on. In 2018, at the ballot box, we must demand better.

Jane Sanders Receives Public Servant Of The Year Award, RFJ 2017

Above Photo: Executive Director of The Sanders Institute Dave Driscoll, Co-founder and Fellow of The Sanders Institute Dr. Jane O’Meara Sanders and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at the Consumer Watchdog 2017 Rage for Justice Awards, May 6, 2017.


Consumer Watchdog hosts the Rage for Justice Awards to honor the heroes and heroines of the public interest movement. The awards are named after Congressman Phillip Burton, one of the most productive and driven progressive legislators in American history. His story is told in John Jacobs’ acclaimed book A Rage for Justice. This year’s honorees included Bernie & Jane Sanders, Chris Spagnoli, and Jackson Browne.




Good evening. And thank you for that amazing video! As you can see, Bernie and I have been together for quite some time – 36 years actually – and we’ve grown older and wiser – most obviously older.

I want to start by thanking all of you for coming out tonight and being part of this important organization. It’s more vital than ever to have groups like Consumer Watchdog out there, fighting for ordinary citizens.

When we received your letter inviting us to be honorees tonight, there was a line describing you all.

It said: “We have been called hell raisers, bomb throwers, trouble makers.”

“Wonderful,” I thought. These are our people!

Bernie and I are both so honored to be here tonight to receive an award from Consumer Watchdog, an organization we respect so much.  I especially love that we’re being recognized for public service, as that is what brought us together and it is what has sustained us – along with our family – throughout the years.

Speaking of family, we are very happy that our son, Dave, could be here with us tonight.

You’re all familiar with Bernie’s campaign for President, aren’t you?

During that campaign, we travelled around the country, talking to people and listening to their stories. Hearing about their hardships. Finding out about their dreams.

Bernie might not have won the election, but he definitely made a difference. And because of his strong standing with the people, we have something of a bully pulpit right now – and we are using it. To talk about issues that we feel are not getting enough attention. To talk about issues that people do not always want to talk about – would rather sweep under the rug.

We want to be advocates for the victims of injustice – like you are.  To rage against injustice – like Congressman Phil Burton so famously did.

In your invitation to us, you said: “Our honorees share a singular intensity, an unremitting indignation, a profound refusal to accept unfairness that impels them to the pursuit of justice.”

We share that indignation. That intensity. And I want to talk to you about the profound unfairness that is most on my mind right now.

Because it happened exactly one week ago, tonight. And it happened to a young man named Jordan Edwards.

For those of you who don’t know, Jordan was a fifteen year-old Texas teenager. An honors student. A beloved friend. Kind, studious, optimistic, loving.

Last Saturday night he made the terrible mistake of thinking he could do what every other 15 year-old likes to do on a Saturday night. He went to a house party.

He went with his brothers and a couple friends. When the party got big and rowdy – behaving responsibly – they decided to leave.

Unfortunately, they were driving away just as a couple of police officers were walking up to the house, and for some unknown reason – they were doing nothing wrong, they were driving away from the party – one of the officers decided to shoot into the car.

With a rifle. Repeatedly.

He shot and killed Jordan Edwards.

This story is too familiar. The specifics may change. And this one has an even more tragic element as Jordan’s brothers had to witness it, be kept away from him and be arrested.

Body cam footage made it clear that they did nothing wrong.

But this was a car of young black men.

Wouldn’t it be nice if body cam footage could reveal not just what happened on the street that night, but why?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we knew what role racism played in what happened to this young man?

We can’t know for certain.  But we do know this. The shooting was unjustifiable.

Jordan’s death, like far too many black boys who have been murdered, apparently, just for being black – is unjustifiable.

That mothers and fathers have to warn their kids to stay inside after dark because they’re afraid of the police, is unjustifiable.

Traveling around the country in the past year, my husband and I have come face to face with all kinds of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or station in life.

Native Americans having inadequate health care and education on their reservations. And having little to no say on matters of criminal justice.

Immigrant families living in constant fear of being detained, deported or split up.

Seniors, people in need, forgotten. Watching their social safety net being slashed first, by their states, and now, by the federal government.

People with pre-existing medical conditions, including mental health illnesses. Fearful of what the health care bill just passed by the US House will mean to their stability, their dignity, their health – even their life expectancy.

Children in low-income areas receiving a very different education in their schools than their peers – and they are their peers – in wealthy communities.

People in poor communities across this nation unable to drink the water that comes out of the tap and, in Flint Michigan, being evicted because they can’t pay the exorbitant water bills.

Working families unable to find decent paying jobs. Unable to afford decent housing or the medication they need to stay alive.

We spent a lot of time with real people on the road. And we learned a lot.

That is why I am so honored by your recognition.  Because it is you, who deserve to be acknowledged. You, who passionately defend the defenseless. You, who dedicate every waking hour to preventing consumers from being exploited.  You, who speak out and seek to address bias.

You, who work toward a world where boys like Jordan Edwards have opportunities instead of eulogies.

I realize this is a big topic for a small speech, but I couldn’t speak out for justice tonight without honoring Jordan. And he is not alone. There are many other boys and girls whose promising future is being withheld from them – and parents who are doing the best they can with less and less opportunity in their communities. Too many have to face the ultimate injustice that Jordan, his brothers and parents endured. Too many have to live without fathers or mothers, as Erika Garner and Cameron Sterling do.

Many, many, many others are enduring a daily, insidious racism or discrimination. This is an issue that needs to be admitted, openly discussed, confronted and finally defeated in this country.

Re-dedicating ourselves to justice is the least we can do for the all-too-many people of color and the most vulnerable among us who live in fear everyday. It’s the least we can do for the working class people who are – often against the odds – struggling to live their lives in dignity.

We can stop this madness – if, and only if – we – together – stand up, fight back, fight for what we know is right.

We need to stand together to help the 43 million Americans who live in poverty, climb their way out of it.

We need to stand together to create new jobs; invest in sustainable economies and renewable energy; and make sure that people earn a living wage.

We need to stand together to protect the Fourth amendment and our right to privacy and to stop what – if you listened to FBI Director Comey’s testimony before Congress this week – appears to be unfettered surveillance.

You, at Consumer Watchdog, are willing to stand up and fight back and You understand what the important issues are for the working men and women of this country.

I am proud to stand with you and I promise to continue to stand up, fight back and to earn this gracious award for public service, from this truly honorable organization.

Thank you so much.

And now, I present to you, my hero, my husband, Bernie Sanders.