In the past days, Ventura County, much like the rest of the country, has been reminded of the somber reality of so many Black Americans: Justice is not always just, the law is not always applied equally, and too often, those meant to serve and protect end up doing the opposite.  

The protests we see today are a manifestation of the years of frustration and the unanswered calls for justice. The protests are the personification of the anger resulting from the unnecessary deaths of Black Americans and the overall long term disparity in the treatment of people of color. “Say their names” is the rallying cry of this movement, to not only despair at the statistics, but to ask the nation to consider the individuals who have lost their lives, and the untold families shattered as a result.  

From the Civil Rights Movement, to the Stonewall Riots in New York, to the Grape Boycott here in California, we have seen many people of color — including heroes like my colleague and friend John Lewis, LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson, and former Oxnard resident and farmworker advocate Cesar Chavez — emerge as champions for social justice. They have been the enduring conscience of America, and the protests they led were the culmination of the pent‐up frustration of Americans who had seen the promise of justice and equality denied for far too long. 

Our nation is heartbroken by the repeated violence and brutality targeted at people of color. Millions are demanding to be heard, yearning for a system that lives up to the promise of our nation that all men and women are created equal and must be treated equally — a system that serves true justice and recognizes that Black lives matter.

Now more than ever, it is important that we stand with Black Americans, and all communities of color, in the ongoing efforts to achieve what is guaranteed by our Declaration of Independence that all men (and women) are created equal. We must take action to ensure that we not only recognize we have a problem, but also to address the issue with the seriousness it deserves. We must create change, and we must do it now. 

Now is not the time to be timid in our response to racial injustice. House Democrats have put forth bold legislation — the Justice in Policing Act — to end police brutality, hold police accountable, improve transparency, and create structural change that safeguards every American’s right to safety and justice.

Reforming the way we police our communities is a start, but we must also make large structural changes across the board, so that we create a foundation where all can succeed, prosper, and expect to be treated equally under the law. Only by working together, collaboratively and constructively, can we succeed.

It is my hope that our nation can get to the point of healing, but we will only reach that point when we make the changes we so desperately need to right the wrongs we have continually failed to address. We simply cannot protest and then move on. We must work with the leaders who emerge from this moment, as we have in past social justice movements, to choose justice over prejudice, equality over discrimination, and freedom over oppression. This is another moment of opportunity for change — it is our responsibility to seize it.

Originally published in the Ventura County Star.

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