As a Black Republican and former congressman, I was saddened by the overt, hateful comments reportedly made by a white Republican congressman toward Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Actions like that do wonders to chase minorities from the party of Lincoln.
Yes, I am bothered by the crude and derogatory language used against a woman, regardless of her color. But beyond that, I would also like to support Ocasio-Cortez on the substance of their discourse: poverty and crime.
My background on the topic is noteworthy. As the chairman of the Republican task force on welfare reform, I wrote sections of the 1996 welfare reform act that allowed for the use of debit cards and electronic benefit transfers for welfare recipients. To help our cities, I introduced the Urban Entrepreneurial Opportunities Act, which never passed Congress but from which many components eventually passed into law. I was also chairman of the Republican task force on civil rights, which helped produce the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Ocasio-Cortez is correct that there is a clear connection between poverty and petty crime. There is a simple way for this problem to be corrected: Enforce existing antidiscrimination laws. Civil rights leaders from the 1960s did an excellent job creating a system where companies must employ Blacks and Hispanics at all levels of an organization. If they don’t, they will stop receiving federal funds. This policy was codified in an executive order by former President Richard Nixon, and every president through today has adhered to it.
By helping Black and Hispanic Americans achieve fair employment, petty crime and poverty will go down. People with good paying jobs like supervisors, managers, directors, and vice presidents do not normally engage in theft, drug deals, or gang activity. They live in nice neighborhoods and their children go to and graduate from good schools. This is reality.
We saw George Floyd suffer a horrific death for eight minutes and 46 seconds. But injustice comes in many forms—sometimes more slowly. Employment discrimination harms Black and Hispanic people daily. Congress now has an opportunity to ensure fair employment for Black and Hispanic Americans.
I am hopeful that Ocasio-Cortez and other members of Congress who truly want to help the plight of minorities will help lead the charge for fair employment. Companies and trade associations are powerful, but the educated public holds even more power. And in America, fairness is not too much to ask.
Gary Franks served as the U.S. representative for Connecticut’s 5th District from 1991 to 1997. He was the first Black Republican elected to the House in nearly 60 years, and is New England’s first Black Member of the House. He is host of the podcast We Speak Frankly. Follow him @GaryFranks.