EXCLUSIVE: VP speaks with Black Press on protecting voting, women’s rights

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the National Newspaper Publishers Association about voting rights and more.   

   

From safeguarding ever-shrinking voting rights in America and taking a stand against gun violence to celebrating Juneteenth and protecting Black mothers — Vice President Kamala Harris addressed many matters that Black communities, and others, are discussing nationwide.    

During a roughly 30-minute virtual meeting on voting rights and women’s rights Thursday, June 16 with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), Harris shared milestone achievements since being elected during her historic win alongside President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021.    

The interview with Harris also coincided with the NNPA’s monumental and historic 195th anniversary of the Black Press of America.  

 

Several days before the Juneteenth holiday, Harris also touched on recognizing the importance of celebrating and acknowledging the rights already won after Black Americans faced a treacherous, sometimes lonely path in their journey to freedom.   

“What does freedom mean? Who has freedom now – who does not have freedom?” She said adding that Juneteenth in the United States directly acknowledges the generations before who experienced a “deprivation of freedom.”   

Harris began the interview with Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., NNPA president, and CEO, asking her to address the rising gun violence in America, especially as conversations surrounding the “Great Replacement Theory” (where White extremists believe that non-Whites will replace them) sentiments are growing.  

Protecting BIPOC Communities   

With the racially motivated mass shooting in mid-May in Buffalo, NY — in which an 18-year-old dressed in tactical gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire at a grocery store in a historically Black neighborhood, killing 10 and wounding three — Harris said that enough is enough.   

Chavis asked Harris that after recently traveling to Buffalo how does the Biden-Harris administration feel about what will happen next with racially motivated violence and gun violence.   

“I’m very concerned,” Harris said adding that gun violence is an “epidemic of hate.”   

“We need to take notice of it,” Harris said, adding that equally disheartening are the politicians who aren’t addressing the roots of the problems in White-supremacy laced hate speeches and acts precede the gun violence on Black and Brown victims. “I’m very concerned elected officials will not name it.”   

“We have to name it,” she said adding that it is time to build a community coalition around communities targeted for hate. “We all have more in common than what separates us.”   

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also called for common-sense gun control measures that would keep firearms out of the hands of mentally unstable perpetrators, as well as a crackdown on hate crimes and domestic terrorism.   

“Given the Republican party’s obsession with making guns available to anybody who wants them, with no background checks or limits on carrying firearms openly in public, I, unfortunately, don’t see crimes like these going away,” she said recently. “As long as Republicans … are able to obstruct any attempts to enact the common-sense gun control measures that many Americans are desperate to have in place, the bloodbath will continue.”   

According to FBI data, hate crimes rose 23 percent between 2016 and 2020, and hate crimes targeting race and ethnicity made up 65 percent of hate crimes in 2020, rising 42 percent during that period. There were nearly 3,000 hate crimes committed across the nation targeting the Black community in 2020; hate crimes targeting the same community rose nearly 60 percent between 2016-2020 and rose more than 40 percent between 2019-2020. And those figures are likely undercounted, according to Giffords.   

Beyond gun violence, women’s rights, and voting rights are being questioned with animosity toward the seemingly waning rights hanging in the balance regarding what the future will hold as around the nation, federal voting protections are yet to be put in place.     

In 1973, a historic U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, granted accessible rights for women to have legal abortions constitutionally. Now the controversial case is deemed at risk if it’s overturned for the roughly 25 million women and girls of reproductive age in America.    

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, however, took a stance this past spring on the matter of the rights of women in Michigan and their reproductive choices and access.   

In early April, Whitmer filed a lawsuit and used her executive authority to request that the Michigan Supreme Court immediately resolve whether Michigan’s Constitution protects the right to abortion, according to a press release. Described as a “nationwide assault on abortion,” Whitmer is seeking to give Michigan women the choice to abort their babies under constitutional rights established 49 years ago in Roe v. Wade.    

“In the coming weeks, we will learn if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Whitmer previously. “This is no longer theoretical: it is reality.”  

Other once “settled” matters are being undone, including voter suppression.  

“How do we overcome voter suppression?” Chavis asked Harris.   

Harris said by continuing to lift up the states “doing good work” despite challenges with some states restricting voter rights.   

In January, the U.S. Senate prevented a set of voting rights bills from going through and blocked proposed changes to the chamber’s rules after seemingly endless weeks of confronting exactly how involved Congress should be to protect U.S. democracy, CNBC reported.  

Harris said that there is a “real overlap” between the growing voter rights and women’s rights restrictions.   

“I do believe in many ways …we are entering an increasingly unsettled world …. the things we took for granted as being settled are no longer settled,” she said. “Now we’re seeing laws sprouting up around the country about … the issue of a woman’s decision to make decisions about (her) own body.” 

   

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