U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said today that the nation is in the midst of a “crisis trifecta” from the pandemic, the economic crisis and the battle for equal rights and treatment, and black Americans are disproportionately affected by each of those.
Jones spoke during a Facebook live video conference with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.
“The events of the past few weeks have laid bare the fact that structural and systemic inequality exist in almost every layer of society in the United States of America,” Jones said. “We are in what I have called a crisis trifecta — from the coronavirus pandemic, to the economic crisis and the moral awakening of so many people in this country to the fact that there are so many of our brothers and sisters who are still being denied equal opportunities, equal rights and equal dignities.”
“These have been ongoing crises in our black community,” the senator said. “While this is a national conversation, I hope that moves us closer to progress. It’s still a traumatic topic for all of us. We’re still dealing with that.”
Woodfin talked about the growing pain the nation has felt the past three weeks in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis.
“All of us — black, white, young, old — are crying out to get rid of the illness and cancer that exists in our country,” he said. “Systemic racism does not belong. We can be a better and a more perfect union. And now’s the time for no one to sit on the sidelines.”
Fielding questions about defunding police, the mayor said he is not in favor of firing police department employees — who account for 90 of the police budget — when there already is a shortage of personnel in that department.
“If activists and the reform community would like to sit down and speak to me as mayor about how can police be better, I’m willing to listen,” he said. “And if there’s something realistic, tangible, we can do that, let’s do it. If you’re asking me to fire police when we already have a shortage, when the No. 1 request on the ground in neighborhood meetings and community meetings is more police presence, more police, then we need to find a balance.”
Jones noted the battles for civil rights decades ago that woke up the conscience of so many people, including a congress and a president.
“I think we’re in that similar historic time,” the senator said. “I believe that we’re going to continue to see the voices of change and the voices of peace. You’re going to see people from all across this country, from all walks of life. All races, all religions are going to respond to that. I believe we’re in a historic time and I don’t think we’re going to lose that momentum anytime soon.”
Worsening COVID-19 Crisis
Woodfin noted the continued seriousness of the novel coronavirus, citing stats that demonstrate an increase in cases.
“As of May 22, we averaged 232 cases in those last seven days,” he said. “As of June 12, we’ve averaged 349 cases in the last seven days. This is still serious.”
The mayor urged people to continue to practice social distancing and to use facial coverings. The senator echoed that plea.
“It is not a political statement for goodness sake,” Jones said. “This is a matter of your health and your neighbor’s health so please, please just suck it up and do it. It’s just not hard.”
Jones was asked about providing help to people who were laid off and whose unemployment payments are about to run out. He cited legislation that he said is sitting on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“The House of Representatives had a Heroes package that included a way to get folks money to keep people on the payroll, not on the unemployment lines,” Jones said. “I’ve got a more robust package. It’s called the Paycheck Security Act and it will use the payroll tax system for immediate tax credits so that businesses don’t have liquidity problems, they can keep people on the payroll with their benefits.”
The senator said that, during this transitional time when the economy is reopening, leaders must figure a way to transition people who are on unemployment back into the workforce.
“There are concerns – and I think that they’re legitimate concerns – that there are those in our society that are actually making a little bit more on unemployment right now than they would be if they go back to work,” Jones said. “We’ve got to make sure that we don’t incentivize folks in that way.”
Jones said the next act of legislation to provide money to taxpayers and businesses is something “everyone recognizes we’ve got to do, and start that process now. If we wait, like Senator McConnell keeps saying he wants to wait until August, it will take that much longer to get things back into place and I don’t know what will happen.”