Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the floor of the upper chamber today to declare that “no American should ever feel powerless,” but an unfair system has driven people to riot in Baltimore.
Reid called the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, whose spine was severed while in the custody of Baltimore police, “the latest in a series of disturbing and unnecessary deaths of young men of color at the hands of police and vigilantes.”
“To be clear, violence is never an acceptable response, even to tragedies such as these. The rioting and looting we are seeing on the streets of Baltimore will only further damage a community in a great American city that is already hurting,” he said. “But we should not let the violence perpetrated by a few to become an excuse to ignore the underlying problem: that millions of Americans feel powerless in the face of a system that is rigged against them.”
Reid stressed that “it’s easy to feel powerless when you see the rich getting richer while opportunities to build a better life for yourself and your family are nonexistent in your own community.”
“It’s easy to feel devalued when schools in your community are failing. It’s easy to believe the system is rigged against you when you spend years watching what President Obama called today ‘a slow-rolling crisis’ of troubling police interactions with people of color,” he continued. “No American should ever feel powerless. No American should ever feel like their life is not valued. But that is what our system says to many of our fellow citizens.”
“No American should be denied the opportunity to better their lives through their own hard work. But that is the reality that too many face. In a nation that prides itself on being a land of opportunity, millions of our fellow citizens live every day with little hope of building a better future no matter how hard they try. We cannot condone the violence we see in Baltimore. But we must not ignore the despair and hopelessness that gives rise to this kind of violence.”
Reid related the situation in Baltimore to his own upbringing in Searchlight, Nev. “This is about the deep, crushing poverty that infects rural and suburban communities across the country. It doesn’t matter if you live in Searchlight or Las Vegas, in Baltimore or rural Maryland: when there is no hope, anger and despair move in,” he said. “So let’s condemn the violence. But let’s not ignore the underlying problem. Let’s not pretend the system is fair. Let’s not pretend everything is OK. Let’s not pretend the path from poverty like the one I traveled is still available to everyone out there as long as they work hard.”
“For hard work to bear fruit, there must be opportunity and there must be hope. I can’t imagine what direction my life would have taken without the hope of the American dream. As a little boy, I had hope. As a teenager I had it. I had it in college.”
The senator opined that bipartisan work being done on criminal justice reform “is a good start.”
“Ensuring that populations are not unfairly targeted for incarceration will be a positive step. But we also need to be investing in inner cities and rural areas, and ensuring that jobs and training and educational opportunities are available where they are needed most,” he said.
“Looking out at the year ahead, the only bill on the agenda I see that does anything to create jobs is the highway bill. That is not enough. We need to do more. It’s up to us here in this Capitol to create jobs. Republicans and Democrats must work together to make sure that America continues to be a land of opportunity for all of our fellow citizens.”