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National Commission To


Address by
Rep. Harold James
April 8, 2000

State Rep. Harold James, of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, former chairman of the state Legislative Black Caucus, Executive Committee of the National Caucus of Black State Legislators, former chairman of the National Black Police Association, and a policeman in the City of Philadelphia for over 20 years.

First of all, give honor to God; and I'd like to say hello to Lyn. Keep on running for President.

I'm honored to participate in founding the National Commission Against the New Violence. At the same time, all of us have a great responsibility, because the very survival of the United States as a nation may be at stake. We have only to look at the recent situations in the Balkans, or the Great Lakes region of Africa, or see how quickly a civilized society can collapse into barbarity.

We should not be so arrogant as to think that we in America are exempt from this threat. Just consider the poison of racism that exists in our society. And, society that would act as if African-Americans, or other minorities, are less than human, or have less rights as citizens, is already a very, very sick society.

Just in the past year, I have had to deal with multiple problems as relates to racism in Pennsylvania, as a state legislator. I participated in hearings of the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee to deal with the problem of racial profiling, also known as DWB--Driving While Black or Brown. Traffic stops by police based on racial profiling have resulted in excessive violence and deaths of innocent people. It is evident throughout the country. We're only about 13% of the population, but yet, we are 70% of the traffic stops.

In March of this year, I called for public hearings to investigate racial disparities in prison sentences, after a study showed that African-Americans routinely receive longer prison sentences than whites, and that African-Americans account for 56% of Pennsylvania's prison population, while we only represent 9% of the population.

I am also supporting a movement to suspend the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Although I lost a sister, and a daughter, to violent death, I still think that the death penalty is biased, and we need to stop it until it can be studied. A recent study showed that the odds of receiving the death penalty in Philadelphia are four times higher, if the defendant is black.

Also, on March 17, State Representatives LeAnna Washington, who heads our Black Elected Officials in Philadelphia, and James Roebuck (who is the new chairman of the Pennsylvania Black Caucus), and myself, along with other civic leaders, have met with the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia, where we requested that he investigate, civil rights violations and discriminatory practices by the Philadelphia Police Department, in particular their internal affairs unit. We presented evidence that police may have ignored evidence and fabricated reports, in order to gain convictions of innocent people.

And a society that would tolerate this kind of systematic discrimination and dehumanization, is just a few steps from barbarism and genocide. Because it degrades the respect we must have for the sacredness of human life. Atrocities like the Amidou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond killings by police in New York, send a message that it's “open season” on young black men, unless we organize ourselves effectively, and make the National Commission into a powerful national movement for justice for all people.

I was particularly shocked to learn, that Mayor--what's his name? Giuliani? Mussolini?--that he tried to justify the Dorismond killing, by releasing Mr. Dorismond's juvenile arrest record to the press. Based on this standard, I am {personally} included on the Mayor's target list, because I also had a juvenile arrest record.

I have a juvenile arrest record, I was adjudged a juvenile delinquent, and then I became a police officer, retired after 22 years. So, I was a {law-breaker,} a law enforcement officer, and now I'm a law-maker.

In fact, when I became a Philadelphia police officer in 1965, as I was going to the Academy, they called me out; called me into the bathroom. This was an older guy. He asked me what part of the city I lived in. I told him that I lived in South Philly, and he said, “We want you to work undercover.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You know, you look like a juvenile delinquent, and so, uh, we would like you to work undercover.”

So, I said, “So, what do I have to do?” He said, “You'll still get paid and all of that, and don't have to worry about nothing. And you just come, and we want you to hang in one location and watch somebody. And, if you don't like it, you can come back through the Academy.” So, I said, “Well, okay. No problem.” So, I did that for five years.

But I am proud of the fact that, under the leadership of the legendary Alfonso Deal, who was also a police officer, who founded a black police officers organization, called the Guardian Civic League, he fought racism and injustice in the Philadelphia Police Department, and he was my mentor. And later, we were part of a group that organized, in 1972, the National Black Police Association, which elected me National Chairman in 1976.

And during all of these struggles, I continued my education at Temple University, earning a certificate in police science, an associate degree in criminal justice, and a bachelor's degree in sociology. I retired from the Philadelphia Police Department in 1987, and was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1988. And on April 4, I won the Democratic primary and hope to be elected to my seventh term this November.

Now, did Patrick Dorismond deserve the same chance in life as Harold James? Yes, of course he did. What kind of mentality dares suggest that a juvenile arrest record makes a person into a life unworthy to live?

So, I look forward to working with all of you, to make the National Commission Against the New Violence into a movement that can help save the soul of this nation, as well as the soul of us.

Thank you.


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