Dozens of congressional staff members walked off the job Thursday afternoon in Washington to protest the lack of indictments in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
“We are gathered here today so that we can be the voice for the voiceless,” Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black said on the steps of the Capitol, with congressional staffers standing beside and behind him.
“Today, as people throughout the nation protest for justice in our land, forgive us when we have failed to lift our voices for those who couldn’t speak or breathe for themselves,” he continued. “May we not forget that in our national history, injustice has often been maintained because good people failed to promptly act.”
The staffers, many of them black, raised their arms in the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture that became widespread in the protests following Brown's death.
Protests have roiled the country after grand juries in Missouri and New York decided in the last month not to indict police officers in the deaths of Brown and Garner, both unarmed black men. A white Ferguson, Mo., police officer fatally shot Brown on Aug. 9; Eric Garner died July 17 on Staten Island when a white New York police officer subdued him in what appeared to be a banned chokehold.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) participated in Thursday’s demonstration on Capitol Hill.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Also on Thursday, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) introduced a bill that would prevent grand juries from being the ones to decide whether a law enforcement officer who kills a person will face charges. Instead, a special prosecutor would bring the case before a judge.
Last week, Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, expressed disappointment about the lack of indictments in Garner’s and Brown’s deaths. “In the span of two weeks, this nation seems to have heard one message loud and clear: There will be no accountability for taking black lives,” she said in a statement.
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