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'Tired, but optimistic': Pence listens to black faith leaders on issues of racism

'Tired, but optimistic': Pence listens to black faith leaders on issues of racism

Vice President Mike Pence (left) and Bishop Joseph Garlington, Sr. (right) at a listening session on race at Garlington's Covenant Church of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 12, 2020. | YouTube/Fox Business via screengrab

Vice President Mike Pence on Friday attended a listening session with black clergy and leaders who shared their life experiences and ideas on policies the administration can implement to help black communities.  

The listening session was held at Covenant Church of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Pence said: "the death of George Floyd was a national tragedy."

"It's brought us to a moment where the president and I are intent on listening and learning. Not just how we might equip people that serve in law enforcement with more tools and more training in the days ahead, but how we also might deal with some of the historic underlying inequities that have beset minority communities," Pence said.

"We are absolutely determined to work with you, the great leaders that are gathered around here and people around the country, to find ways in the long term that we can make progress on some historic inequities, particularly impacting our African American communities and our cities, in jobs, in opportunity, in education, and in healthcare."

Pennsylvania Superior Court Pastor Ross Owens told Pence that he was "mentally, physically and spiritually tired" of the racism he and his children have experienced.

"It's exhausting to continue to talk to my children, and try to educate my son as I'm teaching him how to drive, how to respond when he's been pulled over police," Owens said.

"But yet I'm so tired, because the narrative is still the same. … When I turn on the television, it's business as usual for the black community."

Noting that he came to the discussion with "a mix of emotions," Owens added that he was "tired, but optimistic," explaining that he had also seen progress on racial issues.

One example was his congregation, which used to be exclusively white and would not welcome local African Americans, but over time has become more racially diverse.

Retired Judge Cheryl Allen spoke about her "experience as a mother" and how her three sons who "have been stopped collectively at least a dozen times by the police, even some black police."

"It's not just white police officers stopping a black young man; it's a mindset that if you are a young black man driving a nice car, you must either be a drug dealer or you stole the car," she said, noting that none of her sons have ever been charged with wrongdoing.

"I've had to contend with police officers in that way and even to the point of going to the station and confronting the commander about the behavior of his officers."

Allen stressed that racism is a "sin issue" and not a "skin issue," adding that she felt that rather than defunding police, the government should defund Planned Parenthood.

"If Black Lives Matter is really serious about black lives, then they should advocate for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which is much, far, far more responsible for the destruction of black lives than any other organization that I can think of," Allen declared.

Lenny McAllister, a conservative activist and director of the Commonwealth Foundation, told those gathered how he feels about the public policy phrase "law and order."

"We need 'law and order,' we can't have chaos in America," said McAllister. "But what people are asking for, what young people are looking for, what Americans are craving for and why they're in so much pain, is because they want 'constitutional law and order.'"

McAllister said "constitutional law and order" means that constitutional protections like the Fourth and First Amendments would apply in every neighborhood, not just privileged ones.

Other participants in the listening session at Covenant Church included Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, former professional football player Scott Turner, Covenant Church founder Bishop Joseph Garlington Sr., and New Birth Baptist Church Pastor James Nelson.

The listening session came in the wake of nationwide protests and riots sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, who died on May 25 while he was lying on the ground, handcuffed, and restrained by three officers in Minneapolis.

Last week, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the city would need well over $55 million in state and federal aid to rebuild more than 1,000 buildings damaged or destroyed in the riots. That number has since been increased to over $500 million

President Trump also held two roundtable listening sessions with black leaders in Southlake, Texas, and at the White House this week.  

According to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted last week, 67% of Americans said they did approve of the president's response to Floyd's death.  

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