WATKINS GLEN — Congressional candidate Tracy Mitrano called Sunday for federal standards for training of all law enforcement officers, reinforced by Congress with sufficient funding to ensure compliance.
She supports outlawing choke holds and “joy rides”— deliberately rough trips in police vehicles that have injured and killed people taken into custody.
“Acts of police brutality, racial profiling and use of force on black and other historically marginalized communities must stop,” Mitrano, a Democrat from Penn Yan, said in a speech in Watkins Glen.
Running for New York’s 23rd Congressional District seat held by Republican Rep. Tom Reed, Mitrano was a featured speaker at Coming Together in Solidarity for Justice, an event meant to stimulate discussion about next steps in addressing racism in the United States.
“I stand with the Black Lives Matter movement because Living-While-Black long has been, and stubbornly continues to be, a dangerous reality in our country,” Mitrano said. “Such violence — the tool of autocrats and despots — has no place in a democracy built on equality and citizenship.”
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police; the recent deaths of Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor, also victims of police brutality; and earlier victims like Emmett Till and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., teach the nation about humanity, Mitrano said.
“We gather here today to grieve their awful, dehumanizing deaths,” she said. “And together we renew our spirit and make a steadfast pledge to do better, to expect more of ourselves, and to render this country a humane and life-affirming place.”
The blurring of lines between police forces and the military also must stop, Mitrano said.
“Let’s demilitarize police forces and return to a notion of peace officers who work with, not against, our communities,” she said. “Let us also reinforce and support for those law enforcement officers who do their job well and who want to do right by the neighborhoods and communities that they protect.”
Mitrano also called for an end to the deficiencies of the U.S. healthcare system and infrastructure, inequalities in schools, food insecurity and lack of affordable housing, all of which have a disproportional adverse effect on black and poor communities.
“We can no longer afford to ignore shocking income inequality,” she added, or the history of slavery, segregation and discrimination that have “left a legacy of disadvantage for black people in low economic communities that we must correct with investment for advancement.”
Mitrano had harsh words for President Donald Trump and his supporters in Congress.
“He is a racist,” she said. “To save the soul of this country we must be crystal clear about the meaning of his presence in our lives: he is a blight on democracy, he seeks autocracy, and he is using racism to achieve it.”
Mitrano said if empathy and compassion are what the nation relies on to bridge differences and to understand one another, then Trump fails that test.
“And he must be replaced,” she said.
Those who align with Trump are part of the problem, Mitrano insisted, and that applies to the incumbent she’s running against. Reed, the honorary chair of Trump’s reelection campaign for all of New York state, “apologizes for Trump’s racism instead of condemning it,” she said.
“He may show up for the photo op in a march … [but] he cannot make an anti-racist commitment,” Mitrano said of Reed. “He is too afraid that if word gets back to the White House, he will get cut off from the president’s gravy train. Or be tweeted against. Or lose his political PAC money.”
Reed, of Corning and co-chair of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, was critical this past week of Trump’s controversial “photo-op” at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington. Reed also disagreed with Trump’s seeming eagerness early last week to use federal troops to quell violence in some cities.
Reed said he appreciates the president talking about law and order, but added: “I hope you see more empathy and listening being displayed.”
Mitrano urged the audience to vote to put anti-racism candidates in office.
“I recognize fully that to every voter, but especially to the black and brown people in this district, I must earn your trust,” she added. “I pledge to do that. If I don’t already know you, I want to. And even if I know you, I hope you will share your experience with me. I want to hear you, and I will listen. … I will stand with you.”