The Department of Justice and police violence against African-Americans
Tamir Rice. Sandra Bland. John Crawford III. Eric Garner. Tanisha Anderson.
Black lives taken by police violence. Prosecutors who stack the deck. Police killers who face no consequences.
It’s a national crisis that demands a national response. The Department of Justice must step in to ensure the full investigation and prosecution of all law enforcement officials, including police officers, who brutalize or kill African-Americans.
Tell Attorney General Loretta Lynch: Use the Justice Department’s full authority and resources to fight police violence targeting African-Americans.
Last month, when prosecutors failed to bring charges against the police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, people were outraged and horrified, but not necessarily surprised — police officers who kill African-Americans routinely escape consequences because prosecutors act to protect police.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has the authority to investigate excessive force or other actions by law enforcement officials to determine if they are civil rights violations, either against an individual or as a “pattern or practice” against a community.1,2.
These investigations are vital because local police and prosecutors, intent on protecting police and their own political careers, may conduct sham investigations, or actively engage in cover-ups to bury key evidence.3 These investigations can also reveal systemic problems within local police departments or prosecutors offices.
Given the DOJ’s authority, Attorney General Lynch must take action to ensure the constitutional rights of African-Americans are protected, whether from police violence, or the prosecutorial misconduct that lets police officers go free. Rather than wait to see if local officials will do the right thing, Attorney General Lynch should immediately deploy the resources of the FBI and the DOJ’s Civil Rights division to conduct a full investigation any time an African-American is brutalized or killed by police.
Tell Attorney General Loretta Lynch: Local law enforcement can’t be trusted. It’s up to the Justice Department to hold police officers and prosecutors accountable for failing to protect and stand up for Black lives.
DOJ investigations can result in charges being brought against individual officers or in consent decrees with offending police departments. Even when the DOJ does not find grounds to bring civil rights charges against officers or departments, their investigations can shine important light on the racism and misconduct endemic in police departments and prosecutors’ offices, allowing local leaders to organize and demand change.4
Police violence and prosecutorial misconduct perpetuate a racist criminal justice system where African-Americans are constantly in danger and where those in power are able to justify and excuse their actions — avoiding consequences and blocking systemic change. Attorney General Lynch has taken many steps to help break this pattern, including advocating for national collection of use-of-force data and conducting investigations in places like Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago.5,6
It’s time for the Justice Department to take even more leadership by committing to use its authority and resources to ensure the full investigation and prosecution of any law enforcement officials who fail to protect and stand up for Black lives.
Thanks for taking action.
Michele Jawondo and Chelsea Parsons, “4 Ideas That Could Begin to Reform the Criminal Justice System and Improve Police-Community Relations, Center for American Progress, 12/18/2014.
How to File a Complaint, Civil Rights Division, United States Department of Justice.
Alan Pike, “An Officer Has Been Charged With The Murder Of Laquan McDonald. But What About The Cover-Up?, Think Progress, 11/25/2015.
Conor Friedersdorf, “Ferguson’s Conspiracy against Black Citizens,” The Atlantic, 3/5/2015.
Department of Justice press release, Attorney General Lynch: Use-of-Force Data is Vital for Transparency and Accountability, 10/5/2015.
Mary Wisniewski, “U.S. DOJ to examine Chicago Police Department's use of force,” Reuters, 12/8/2015.