Speeches: Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY)

My brothers and my sisters, let me thank you for the political courage that it takes for you, day after day, to stick with those beliefs that you have ­ notwithstanding sometimes the cross you have to bear and the lack of popularity. What has made our country so great is that the leaders like Dr. King and Adam Clayton Powell, and so many others who fought and indeed died for this country . while we laud them after they have died, they were not martyrs when they were alive. They were indeed the subjects of scorn and criticism. But then, their ideas are the ones that survive. And we do have a responsibility to do and to say and to speak out for those things that we truly believe in.

Some of those things that we talk about today are just so basic. How we can hold ourselves as the most civilized, the most prosperous, the most advanced nation in the world, and still believe that we can take some mother's child and snuff the life away from that child . . . it is murder when it is done one to another ­ it is no less than murder if it's done by any state. [applause]

I recently went to meet with Fidel Castro [applause]. Don't applaud too loud, I went with the Pope. [laughter] But I asked President Clinton before I left, whether there was anything that I could suggest to Fidel Castro that we could do to normalize the relationship between these great countries, and to make certain we did not do any further harm to the health and the prosperity of the people on the great island of Cuba. And he said that we should ask the Cuban government to move more swiftly in the area of democracy. I said to President Clinton, "It's easy for me to talk about democracy to foreigners. But Mr. President, what happens if while we're talking about their political prisoners, he asks me about our political prisoners? [applause]

I am so impressed by Arianna's crusade. Not just for America, but for humankind. To be able to say that a person is not born ­ is not raised to be locked up and treated worse than some of the ways we treat animals. We cannot expect thatanyone that is treated like this ­ or expects to be treated like this ­ is going to be very kind to their fellow man.

But it is the numbers, Arianna, that are so shocking. For us to truly believe that we have over two million human beings warehoused in our jails and our prisons . . .my brothers and sisters, listen to this: China, which has over a billion people . . . we have more people jailed in the United States than they have [in prison] in all of the population of China.

In addition to that, we have to know that it is costing us $250 billion a year, not to educate, not to rehabilitate, not to invest, but just to warehouse Americans like this. How insane is it for us to say that we should change the immigration laws to allow skilled foreign workers to come to do jobs, when we refuse to invest in our own young people that can learn and can do the jobs that are there? [applause]
The whole idea that you can have a so-called criminal justice system, and yet in Washington, or in the capitals of the states, that we would mandate that a judge will listen to the facts, and that he would have mandatory sentences, defies common sense and belief . . . that there's something in the book that you can say, "one sentence fits all, and justice is going to be done" . . . it is wrong for these things to happen. [applause]

And so, the relationship between the crime and time served . . . clearly the kindest word you can find for it is that we are talking definitely about political prisoners. It is nothing less than that. Because if you take the profile of who is locked up in jails, you have the poorest of the people. They are the people of color. They are the people who don't have access to education. They are the people that people in this country would like to believe don't exist. But I can't tell you this: in the United States Congress, we have 38 African-American brothers and sisters, 17 Latino members, and we have dedicated members that are going to make certain that in this Congress, and the next Congress, we are not going to allow these injustices to go by without our voices and our bodies being seen and being heard, to make this country what she can be. [applause]

At some point in time, we all have to be held accountable for not only what we have done, but for our silence when things are being done to other people. [applause] You can expect that as we view the killings that are taking place in the prisons, by the Governor from Texas, and the killings that took place before Clinton became President, by the Governor from Arkansas, that we will find these killings unacceptable.

We don't all have to read from the same page of everything that we dream and believe in. But you can bet your life you will not be going to any neighborhood, any valley, any community or any city, that I won't be standing up there with you, defending your right to speak out about the injustices that are happening to people, especially as relates to this so-called war against drugs. It has been a war against people. It has warehoused our young. It has denied us the opportunity to educate. It has forfeited the dreams and the aspirations of young people. It has allowed drugs to come into our community as a substitute for hope. This is unacceptable in any society, and it should be just obscene as relates to the great United States of America. [applause.]

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