Erasing America's Color Lines

Erasing America's Color Lines
Posted by FoM on January 14, 2001 at 14:07:30 PT
By William Jefferson Clinton
Source: New York Times
At the beginning of the last century, the great African-American scholar and civil rights leader W. E. B. Dubois said, "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line." He was right.But because of the lessons and sacrifice of people like Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow, we can write a new preamble to the 21st century, in which color differences are not the problem, but the promise, of America.
We don't have a moment to lose. America is undergoing one of the great demographic transformations in our history. According to the latest census figures, nearly one in 10 people in the United States was born in another country. Today there is no majority racial or ethnic group in Hawaii or California or Houston or New York City. In a little more than 50 years, there will be no majority race in America.As our nation grows ever more diverse, the world grows ever more interdependent. If we make the most of our diversity, we will enhance our success in the global information age.We have moved out of the epicenter of racial conflict that rocked our nation from the time of conquest through slavery, the Japanese internment and the tumultuous days of the civil rights era. But we still experience the aftershocks.Tomorrow, I am sending a message to Congress outlining the unfinished business of building One America. In it, I issue a concrete set of challenges and recommendations that I hope will be helpful, not only to the 107th Congress and the new administration, but to all of us as we continue the important work of righting the wrongs of the past while building a future of greater opportunity for all.It is true that more of us are living, learning and working together across the lines of race and ethnicity than ever before. And people of color have more opportunity than ever before. Still, we see evidence of inequality in the long list of disparities in employment and wealth, education, criminal justice and health that still so often break down along the color line. The next step in our long march to racial reconciliation is to expand opportunity and close these intolerable gaps.My message to Congress makes recommendations in a number of areas. For example, there is perhaps no area today in which perceptions of fairness differ so greatly, depending on one's race, than the administration of criminal justice.If you are white, you most likely believe the system is fair. If you belong to a minority group, you most likely feel the opposite. If we want to keep crime coming down, we need to instill trust in our criminal justice system.We can begin by ending the practice of racial profiling. We know racial profiling exists. We know it is wrong. And it should be illegal, everywhere. As we continue our efforts to document the extent of the problem, we should pass a federal law banning the practice of racial profiling.We should also re-examine our federal sentencing policies, particularly mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. We should immediately reduce the disparity between crack and powder-cocaine sentences. And we should pass legislation to provide greater access to DNA testing and competent counsel for defendants in death penalty cases.The struggle for equal justice in America also includes the struggle for voting rights. In the presidential election of 2000, too many people felt the votes they cast were not counted, and some felt there were organized efforts to keep them from the polls.We must do more to ensure that more people vote and that every vote is counted. To that end, I urge the new administration to appoint a nonpartisan presidential commission on electoral reform, headed by distinguished citizens like former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Such a commission should gather facts and determine the causes  in every state  of voting disparities, including those involving race, class and ethnicity. It should make recommendations to Congress about how to achieve fair, inclusive and uniform standards for voting and vote counting. It should also work to prevent voter suppression and intimidation and to increase voter participation. Here are two places to start: We should make Election Day a national holiday. And it is long past time to give back the right to vote to ex-offenders who have paid their debts to society.My message to Congress recommends actions to close other racial and ethnic gaps, including those in education and in the health of our people. And it calls for equal treatment under the law for immigrants from Central America and Haiti, many of whom have fled civil unrest and human rights abuses to seek a new life in America. Government cannot do this work alone. Building One America is the work of every American. Whether you are able to help a single child or lead a national movement for justice, it all begins with a personal commitment. As Dr. King once said: "No social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."I have tried to honor those words each day of my presidency. I pledge to continue the important work of building One America as I return to the most important job of all: citizen. William Jefferson Clinton is the 42nd president.Source: New York Times (NY) Author: William Jefferson ClintonPublished: January 14, 2001Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company Address: 229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036 Fax: (212) 556-3622 Contact: letters Website: Forum: Related Article:Clinton: Pot Smoking Should Not Be Prison Offense 
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on January 14, 2001 at 14:18:54 PT:
The Good Old Days?
"We should also re-examine our federal sentencing policies, particularly mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders."It's a start, Bill. It might have been nice to repeat your suggestions about decriminization of cannabis. Given the AG choice and others by Dubya, it may be that we will soon look back on the Clinton era as "the good old days."
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