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Bankole Thompson: Hakeem Jeffries can lead Democrats on reforms


The elevation of New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries to minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives puts a trained lawyer and passionate legislator in the driver's seat to decide what issues the Democratic Party should take on in the coming years. 

Jeffries, 52, who could become the first Black Speaker of the House should there be a Democratic majority, doesn’t mince words. He is not afraid to take on the most difficult and controversial issues. Among them is the need for police reform and ending qualified immunity for officers, which gathered steam after the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The issue of police misconduct now stands to be a major issue for Democrats with Jeffries in leadership.

In fact, during an appearance last year before the Oxford Union, the revered debating society at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, Jeffries said his own entry into elected office was triggered by the Rodney King case in 1991. King was a Black motorist who was brutalized by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department who were later acquitted.

In Congress, Jeffries had been very critical with some aspects of the stalled George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as basically a giveaway to law enforcement. He wants real reform, not placating the status quo.

“It’s actually written by those police organizations that we’re trying to hold accountable — that makes zero sense," Jeffries said in a 2021 interview. "And so this is an obstacle and a stumbling block, but not an unsurprising one, because we always knew that it would exist, and I still believe that it can be overcome as part of the effort to transform policing in America.” 

Now Jeffries gets to decide who sits at the table to write legislation for Democrats that would address the multifaceted needs of the party’s diverse constituencies. It matters who is in the room when decisions are being made.

Even though a greater proportion of Black people vote for Democrats, they find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to major decisions within the party, a critique often made during elections. Given that Jeffries has long demonstrated a penchant for accountability and understands the current political climate in the nation, his rise represents hope for change.

“Jeffries’ ascension is important and historic," said Michigan U.S. Sen. Gary Peters. "He is talented and has worked hard to get here — it’s exciting not only that he reflects the diversity of our party and country but is leading a new generation of leaders.” 

“He is principled, pragmatic and a powerful communicator," added Peters, a Democrat and chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. "I’m confident Jeffries will work to bring folks together and focus on solving problems facing families and communities all across our country.”

Detroit U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar is hopeful about what Jeffries can help get done to improve voters' lives.

“I have spoken to Jeffries about issues important to the 13th Congressional District," Thanedar said. "I impressed on him that we need to continue our efforts to put people over politics, lean into the issues my constituents in the district care about like lower prescription drug costs, better-paying jobs, safer communities, defending democracy, protecting the public interest and ensuring economic opportunity in every single zip code.”

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

bankole@bankolethompson.com

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