Racial Injustice Movement and Police Reforms with Congresswoman Karen Bass and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison

On July 17the Meridian Center for Diplomatic Engagement hosted a virtual Insights@Meridian discussion reflecting on the civil unrest that has swept the nation in recent months. Featuring Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Keith Ellison, Minnesota Attorney General and prosecutor on the George Floyd case, the discussion provided the necessary context for an international audience to understand the deep-rooted frustration behind the nationwide protests. PBS NewsHour White House Correspondent Yamiche Alcindor moderated the discussion, and His Excellency Barfuor Adjei-Barwuah, Ambassador of Ghana, offered closing remarks. 

 Below are the key takeaways from the conversation:  

 1.WHAT AN INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCE NEEDS TO KNOW. “Our country has struggled since its inception to live up to its ideals of liberty and justice for all,” Rep. Bass expounded, referring to America’s founding on stolen indigenous land, its 256 years of capturing and enslaving Africans, and an additional 100 years of Jim Crow segregation. Attorney General Ellison noted that this left only 50 years of anything besides state-sponsored oppression of Black people. Today’s problems should come as no surprise, given this troubling legacy. However, many Americans have yet to fully come to terms with its abusive past. They will have to, Ambassador Adjei-Barwuah cautioned, if the U.S. wants to remain the leader of the free world. 

 2. OBSTACLES TO ACCOUNTABILITY. Qualified immunity is a legal standard in the U.S. that protects police from civil suits and shields them from accountability unless they violate a “clearly established” law, often leading these suits to fail. Attorney General Ellison posits that this standard sets up a “moral hazard” by greenlighting police officers to engage in corrupt behavior without the fear of any consequences. He likened it to what he called the false argument against universal healthcare, which proposes that granting access to unlimited healthcare will cause it to be overused. Qualified immunity has become the most contentious point in Rep. Bass’s George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. She states that it is the main difference between her House bill and the competing one sponsored by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) in the Senate  

 3. REFUND OUR COMMUNITIES. Approximately half of the deadly police encounters in Minnesota involve people in a mental health crisis. Yet the funding allocated to Minnesota’s police departments is astronomically greater than that set aside for crisis centers, public housing, and other services that would benefit the community, Attorney General Ellison explained. Critics of the defund the police movement should recognize it for what it really is: a plea to provide the necessary funding for  community services. 

 4. THIS IS A LIFE AND DEATH ELECTION. For the world’s richest country to also have the highest rate of new daily infections is “inexcusable,” and makes the upcoming national election a matter of “life and death” according to Rep. Bass, who is being vetted as a potential running mate for presidential candidate Joe Biden. For people of color especially, who are being disproportionately victimized both by the virus and by police, the need for new leadership is particularly acute. 

 5. LACK OF DIVERSITY IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT. Out of 189 U.S. Ambassadors only three are Black career diplomats. The dearth of diversity in the State Department has been extensively covered in recent weeks by Foreign PolicyThe New York Timesand others. Rep. Bass noted that a diplomatic corps that doesn’t reflect America’s demographics “sends a terrible message,” and plans to introduce legislation today addressing the issue. Meridian shares Chairwoman Bass’s sentiments. As a pipeline for future foreign leaders through our international exchange and leadership development programs and for the next generation of  U.S. diplomats and international relations professionals through our own staff, Meridian is committed to playing a role in building a State Department that more closely resembles the country it represents. 

Project summary

Racial Injustice Movement and Police Reforms with Congresswoman Karen Bass and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison | July 2020
Number of Attendees: 48
Regions: Africa, East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Western Hemisphere
Countries: Albania, Angola, Australia, Botswana, Cameroon, Djibouti, El Salvador, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Liberia, Latvia, Malawi, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Morocco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Switzerland, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Zimbabwe
Impact Areas: Human and Civil Rights
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement