Urban League conference draws big names

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— Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine may have helped set the tone at the annual conference of the National Urban League, which was held last week in Baltimore.

Kaine, who proved an ample fill in for Hillary Rodham Clinton, spoke passionately about more police training, data collection and the need for community policing rather than an adversarial and zero-tolerance strategy.

“A profound distance has grown up between law enforcement and communities in too many places in America, and that distance is dangerous,” he said. “Let’s support independent data collection, investigation and, if necessary, prosecution of police involved in deaths.”

Kaine also called for the end of the era of mass incarceration.

The conference, which kicked off on Wednesday, August 3, 2016 and ran through Saturday, August 6 at the Baltimore Conference Center, also featured several workshops and a panel of civil rights activists and community leaders, moderated by the Reverend Al Sharpton, who championed criminal justice reform.

“We cannot have flash-point movements to settle systemic problems,” Sharpton said. “Black America has to change the temperature in the kitchen.”

Panelists noted that one in 10 black men in their 30s is incarcerated in the United States and one in 50 children have a parent in prison. Additionally, it was noted that there are currently approximately 6,000 youth in adult jails in the country.

“There has been an explosive increase in incarceration in the United States,” said Jenny Kim of Koch Industries, who sponsored the discussion about criminal justice reform and ending mass incarceration.

Mass incarceration has hit black communities the hardest, by far, National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial said.

Cornell William-Brooks, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, also spoke on the topic at the conference.

Brooks said the plight of African-Americans and the criminal justice system demands immediate attention.

“Mandatory minimums and other laws are condemning our people to the bowels of the criminal justice system,” he said.

Last year, more than 900 lives were lost due to police and citizen encounters, Brooks said. This year, more than 500 people have been killed at the hands of law enforcement and the United States needs national standards regarding use of force and police conduct, according to Brooks.

Famed Baltimore attorney Billy Murphy Jr., who represents the family of Freddie Gray, said the election of the country’s next president is pivotal for African-Americans.

It’s imperative that “anyone but a Republican” is elected, Murphy said.

Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said blacks must turn out to vote in record numbers because “everything is at stake.”

Benjamin Crump, president of the National Bar Association, likened high prison rates to slavery.

“We’ve got to quit incentivizing mass-incarceration. We must use the power of the ballot to hold elected officials accountable,” Crump said.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake blasted Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump and the GOP for not accepting an invitation to appear at the conference.

“If you plan to be president, you should plan to be president of the entire United States and when you have a national organization of this stature and refuse to participate at this national conference, it speaks to what your priorities are moving forward,” Rawlings-Blake said. “African-Americans in this country have a strong tradition, a strong history and an extremely powerful future.

“You cannot think you’re going to have an inclusive country, a country that is good for all of America, without including African-Americans.”

Among the many who spoke or appeared at the conference were: activist Sil Lai Abrams; Lee Baker, president of Apex Financial Services; Linda Blount, president and CEO of Black Women’s Health Imperative; Charmaine Brown, the director, Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Fannie Mae; Maryland Senator Ben Cardin; singer and songwriter Raheem DeVaughn; hip-hop legends Doug E. Fresh and M.C. Lyte; U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr.; TV One’s Roland Martin; and former Baltimore mayor and University of Baltimore President Kurt L. Schmoke.