WASHINGTON, D.C., September 23, 2014 – A coalition of national civil and human rights organizations and leaders concerned about police abuse commends last week’s announcement by Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. launching the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. The initiative will enlist a team of criminal justice researchers to study racial bias in law enforcement in five U.S. cities and will focus on training to reduce bias and ensure fairness in law enforcement. The group also applauds the federal investigation by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division of the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department following the August 9, 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, by a Darren Wilson, a white police officer. The weeks following Mr. Brown’s death have seen protests, unrest and further police-related incidents in the area, underscoring a deep schism between the police and the communities they are supposed to protect and serve.
Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive Director Barbara Arnwine and Public Policy Director Tanya Clay House, originally convened 14 national civil and human rights organizations and leaders to issue a Unified Statement of Action to Promote Reform and Stop Police Abuse on August 18, 2014. Two of the coalition’s recommendations have come to fruition: an independent and comprehensive investigation by the DOJ of Michael Brown’s shooting death and the use of body-worn cameras by Ferguson police officers. The group continues to call for the use of police officer body-worn cameras nationally and commends the White House’s recent announcement of testing of body-worn cameras by the U.S. Border Patrol. Notably, five additional groups, including the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and more than 340 independent signatories, have joined the open letter which was sent to the White House and the DOJ.
The coalition is also encouraged by Attorney General Holder’s emphasis on the need for diversity across police departments and his description of the proactive steps that the DOJ has taken to engage the St. Louis County Police Department during his remarks regarding the civil rights investigation. Yet while the investigation of Mr. Brown’s death, as well as the racial bias study and its associated results are significant steps forward, the groups continue to call upon the DOJ, FBI, and police departments across the country to comprehensively address the ongoing killing of unarmed African American and Latino youth and adults by police and civilians alike that may have been motivated by racial bias, and to effect universal and long-term systemic reform to end police killings and the use of excessive force. In addition, the group continues to urge release of the federal racial profiling guidance, improved community policing, federal oversight of the distribution of federal weaponry and Congressional hearings on the use of excessive and deadly force by police.
The coalition, which remains in conversation with the White House, the DOJ, Ferguson and St. Louis County officials, and community groups and leaders, will continue to closely monitor related police-involved shootings and brutality nationwide. Likewise, the group will remain a vital part of ongoing reforms, recommendations and actions.
“As the federal investigation of the Ferguson Police Department continues, revealing the actual practices by the police department, including patterns of racially disproportionate policing, and as the Department of Justice’s study of racial bias in law enforcement gets underway, the Lawyers’ Committee remains hopeful that the application of the rule of law will yield a just and fair result for Michael Brown and his family and former and pending police lawsuits and internal investigations nationwide. Also, the Ferguson tragedy heightens national awareness of the criticality of voting. It is your right and your duty to make your voice heard by exercising the fundamental right to vote to effect change in your community and in the nation.”
-Barbara R. Arnwine, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
“Attorney General Eric Holder’s plan to investigate racial bias among law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, is a bold first step towards justice for thousands of victims of racial profiling throughout the country. The NAACP Missouri State Conference has been a leader on this front, filing five complaints with the Department of Justice, with regards to cases in St. Louis County. We applaud Attorney General Holder for his leadership in investigating the police interactions that resulted in the death of Michael Brown and that of others across the country. ”
-Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO, NAACP
“The A. Philip Randolph Institute supports the recommended strategy of reform to ensure that the problem of police abuse is addressed at the highest level. We applaud the swift action of President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. and the Department of Justice for taking a strong stance against violence and for speaking in favor of restructuring the current landscape to encourage diversity within law enforcement so that the true healing of our communities can move forward.”
-Clayola Brown, President, A. Philip Randolph Institute
“The Department of Justice should be commended for responding swiftly to the tragedy in Ferguson and for taking steps to address racial bias in policing, which undermines effective law enforcement and leads to the victimization of entire communities. The need for sensible reforms is urgent and we urge the administration and Congress to respond accordingly.”
-Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
“The National Bar Association applauds the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division’s civil pattern or practice investigation into allegations of unlawful policing by the City of Ferguson. Such an investigation was needed and long overdue. African American communities, such as Ferguson, have routinely been subjected to Investigatory Stops without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Stops resulting in unconstitutional detentions and searches. Accordingly, The National Bar Association encourages the DOJ to launch similar investigations in the 25 cities that it has sent Open Records Request. More important, the Association demands Congress to enactment of federal legislation: 1) making it mandatory for police officers to wear body monitors and any violation of this requirement would result in automatic suspension and/or termination; 2) developing and implementing an Early Warning System be to identify officers who are prone to emotional instability or behavior problems; 3) reviewing the use of Deadly Force policies; and 4) mandatory reporting of incidents by race.”
-Pamela Meanes, President, The National Bar Association
“We are encouraged by the Attorney General’s plan to investigate racial bias in law enforcement in select U.S. cities and hope to see such actions replicated nationally. The Department of Justice must use all of its power to implement systemic policing reforms so that the federal government is able to monitor discrimination and use of excessive and deadly force by local police agencies. These investigations are an important first step to help avoid the all too familiar deadly consequences of these unchecked systems.”
-Laura W. Murphy, Director, Washington Legislative Office, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)