Fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, much of the country has marched backward, toward de facto segregation, the resurrection of Jim Crow, and racially-motivated violence. Senator Elizabeth Warren decided it was time to tell it like it is. Yesterday, appearing at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston, Senator Warren spoke in brutally honest terms about the recent epidemic of police brutality:

We have seen sickening videos of unarmed, black Americans cut down by bullets, choked to death while gasping for air – their lives ended by those who are sworn to protect them. Peaceful, unarmed protesters have been beaten. Journalists have been jailed. And, in some cities, white vigilantes with weapons freely walk the streets.

She didn’t stop there:

Violence was not the only tool. African Americans were effectively stripped of citizenship when they were denied the right to vote. The tools varied…but the results were the same. They were denied basic rights of citizenship and the chance to participate in self-government.

Warren went on to point out how the five corporatist judges on the US Supreme Court have paved the way for a return to the bad old days of Jim Crow:

Today, the specific tools of oppression have changed—voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and mass disfranchisement through a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates black citizens.

She added, “The tools have changed, but black voters are still deliberately cut out of the political process.”

From there, Warren sharply criticized Reagan “trickle-down” economic policies that effectively undid all progress toward closing the income gap that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s “Great Society” programs made, policies the GOP deliberately designed to increase the wealth and power of a small, psychopathic, elite class that  willingly steal food from a hungry child and sacrifice the planet for the sake of making a few more dollars.

These policies have had a disproportionate effect on African-Americans and Latinos, who were also hit much harder by the Wall Street manufactured housing crisis in 2008. Discriminatory lending practices are still in place, creating de-facto segregated neighborhoods. Warren cited a report from the National Fair Housing Alliance:

[An] investigation showed those [real estate] agents consistently steering white buyers away from interracial neighborhoods and black buyers away from affluent ones. Another investigation showed similar results across our nation’s cities.

Has nothing changed since a young Senator Ted Kennedy stood on the floor of the Senate, his elder brother buried only a few months, making his first speech in defense of the Civil Rights Act? There have been improvements. Segregation cannot be enshrined in law. Public businesses are no longer allowed to refuse service to a customer based solely on race. Mixed-race couples can legally wed in all fifty states, and rarely attract attention anymore (in most regions, at least). Racial stereotypes in film and theater have been relegated to the status of historic relics, or employed in satirical ways by comedians.

But there is a very long road ahead of us. While it is a good bet that more of us are enlightened than aren’t, the fact remains that the willfully ignorant, fearful, and hateful still wield influence and get significantly more press. We can only follow Senator Warren’s exhortations to keep going:

So it comes to us to continue the fight, to make, as John Lewis said, the ‘necessary trouble’ until we can truly say that in America, every citizen enjoys the conditions of freedom.

Read the entire text of Senator Warren’s speech here.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.