The protests over the lack of indictments in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases have expanded to Congress. Congressional staffers walked out of their jobs Thursday, December 11 in a symbol of solidarity with protests taking place in the streets, on the basketball court and on football fields across the country.
They bowed their heads as Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black prayed, “Forgive us when we have failed to lift our voices for those who couldn’t speak or breathe for themselves” — emphasizing “breathe” in reference to Eric Garner, who died after a policeman grabbed him in a choke hold in New York.
Meanwhile inside the Capitol, the House of Representatives was struggling to come up with the votes to pass a government funding bill that would keep the government open.
“Democrats and Republicans across the country are incredibly frustrated by what happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, and elsewhere, and this protest reflects the mistrust they have in the integrity of the criminal justice system,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said in a statement. “These congressional staffers put in incredibly long hours, nights, and weekends working to pass legislation to help people live better lives, so I fully support them taking a few moments today to pray with the Senate chaplain for Congress to take action to ensure that all Americans are treated equally before the law.”
Cummings is one of several members of Congress who requested hearings on the issues raised by Garner’s and Brown’s deaths.
The demonstration was organized by the Congressional Black Associates and other groups representing minority employees of Congress to show support for protests around the country.
On the grounds nearby, Valerie Bell — the mother of Sean Bell, shot in New York on the morning of his wedding — watched with other mothers whose sons were killed by police. Nine mothers have been meeting with Congress members and Washington officials this week asking for an end to police brutality against black men.
“We stand with them, and they stand with us,” Bell said as the congressional employees gathered outside in the cold.
As staffers returned to work after the brief event, Black said they were exercising their free speech rights “to say that there are some issues that are significantly critical, that there needs to be a greater conversation.”