The Fix: A Big Idea on America’s Racial Problem

In the year before before John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Massachusetts Democrat who had vacillated on civil rights matters spoke of a mechanism that would make constitutional protections uniform across the country.

This was a nation that had always taxed its black and Latino citizens like all others. But the country had never bothered to use the resulting federal funds to provide the same quality schools, parks, hospitals or anything else available to white Americans. So when Kennedy suggested that justice demands that public money should no longer support segregated institutions and those that violate certain people’s civil rights, he put it in the soaring language of American ideals and generally recognized concepts of fairness:

Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races [colors, and national origins] contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial [color or national origin] discrimination.

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, one section, Title VI, made Kennedy’s concept the law of the land. In case you missed it, federal funds can be withdrawn or withheld from institutions, agencies, cities, states and so on that repeatedly, knowingly or systematically violate the civil rights of U.S. citizens. That has been affirmed many times by many courts. The U.S. Justice Department is clear about this on its own website. And so on Wednesday, a collection of social justice and civil right activists gathered outside the Justice Department to press the agency to apply Kennedy’s idea to police departments across the country.

Washington Post