The unrest in the East Coast city of Baltimore, triggered by the death in police custody of 25-year-old resident Freddie Gray, sparked emotional debate in the U.S. Congress Thursday. Not surprisingly, Republican and Democratic lawmakers expressed different views on the best ways to tackle poverty, inequality and policing problems.
Baltimore Native Nancy Pelosi Calls for Peace
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is sometimes referred to as the “daughter of Baltimore” because her father and brother were both mayors of the city many years ago. She told reporters that the riots this week were not as bad as the violence that erupted after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. when her brother was mayor in 1968, but she said it has been a sad week.
“All of us who love justice and all of us who love Baltimore are deeply saddened by the death of Freddie Gray and deeper wounds that have been laid bare in the Baltimore community,” she said.
Pelosi called for peace and non-violent action in her native city. She said the root causes of the furor unleashed this week are very complex, but access to a good education and job training for all would be a good place to start.
African American Lawmakers Call on Congress to Act
On the House floor Thursday, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus also spoke passionately about Baltimore and offered their apologies to the family of Freddie Gray, whose spinal cord was severed while in police custody.
Democratic Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio apologized to Gray’s family, saying Congress’ own policy failures are partly to blame.
“When you disinvest in education, when you provide no places for kids to play and no summer jobs, Baltimore happens. When you refuse to provide resources for job training, for decent housing and you have a lack of resources to the communities of highest need, Baltimore happens," she said.
Fudge said the budget Congress is working on this week continues to prove that the majority of the people in the House of Representatives care little about the plight of poor and underserved communities.
Speaker Boehner Calls for New Solutions
Republican House Speaker John Boehner also expressed his condolences to the Gray family, as well as recovery wishes to the police who were injured in violence in the city this week. He said he disagrees with President Barack Obama that government programs can help fix the underlying problems.
“Now the president has suggested more taxpayer money is the answer," he said. "Again, we believe the answer is more jobs and more opportunity.”
Boehner said the U.S. government has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in well-intended programs designed to help people get out of poverty, but those programs are not working. He said people do not want to be dependent on government services.
President Does Not Plan a Visit
Earlier this week, Obama spoke at length about the situation in Baltimore, saying there is no excuse for violence or looting. But he said the United States needs to do some soul searching about the way people of color are treated by police, and about the inequality and poverty that fuels unrest.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president has no plans to travel to Baltimore, because he does not want to divert city policemen to help provide security for him.