On Monday, after an hours-long peaceful protest calling for the end of police brutality in Boston turned toward violent clashes between police officers and individuals, Rep. Ayanna Pressley called for the focus to remain on the peaceful activism, and on the reasons why protests and activism remain necessary today — to fight racist policies that have been in place for decades.

"Community organizers are community builders. They are not destroyers," Pressley said on Boston Public Radio Monday. "And it is deeply painful that there are forces at work to infiltrate and to undermine the good work, the vigilant work, of people who are committed to peace and justice in earnest, despite how slow coming that has been."

Pressley became audibly emotional when discussing how many years the fight for racial equality in the United States has gone on for, mentioning the work of Rep. John Lewis, the Freedrom Rider with whom she serves in U.S. Congress.

"I'm just trying to keep it together, honestly," Pressley said, calling recent events "a traumatic deja vu." She said that "the Black Lives Matter movement is a continuation of the work of many Freedom Riders and activists that came before us."

"There is so much brutality and murder and lynching and choking and surveying and policing. You know, it's just so much trauma, just intergenerational trauma," she said. "And what is maddening about it is that it can be stopped."

Pressley said she believes that the best way to combat "draconian laws, discriminatory laws [that have] codified hurt" for years is to pass new legislation that "can codify healing."

Pressley and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota filed a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday "condemning police brutality, excessive force and racial profiling," she said, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans by police. Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was seen on video pressing his knee into Floyd's neck as he said he couldn't breathe, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on Friday.

"We need to enact uniform standards and restrictions on the use of force and the elimination of special protections, protecting police officers and departments from being held accountable in case of brutality and abuse," Pressley said. Congress "must act as the conscience for our nation" and pass the legislation, she said.

Pressley, who was a Boston City Councilor before becoming a U.S. congresswoman, said that it will take action from all levels of government to enact change.

"I know when you're talking about systemic injustice, sometimes people will chalk it up to culture, but culture is human behavior. And it can be changed," Pressley said. "And I think that begins by holding all accountable, from this White House to our State House to our City Hall, to root out the scourge of police brutality and the many other intersectional injustices that also play a part."

The congresswoman also acknowledged that the protests are taking place during a pandemic that has disproportionately affected black people and other people of color, which, combined with structural racism, has culminated in feelings of "loss and trauma and fear" for many.

When asked how white people who do not understand the reasons for the recent protests and activism should better educate themselves, Pressley said people must be intentional and specific in their organizing and who they choose to vote for.

"It's not enough to just say you're not a racist. You have to be actively anti-racist," she said.

"There are numerous pieces of legislation ... that we all need to continue to apply the pressure to see expedited and advance," Pressley said. "This is about saving lives. Justice is about dignity. You know, and that's what's exhausting — is that you have to keep organizing just to affirm your very humanity and your dignity."