Employee group calls for "swift action against bias, discrimination and misconduct" and condemns forceful action against peaceful protestors.
A group of black employees at the Justice Department has issued a statement calling on department leaders to take more proactive measures to reform police and hold accountable those acting unlawfully.
The statement, from the DOJ Association of Black Attorneys, also condemned any retaliation or forceful law enforcement action against peaceful protestors that have taken place across the country in the wake of police killing George Floyd, an unarmed black man. Justice has, with some controversy, deployed personnel from all of its law enforcement components to quell the protests. All department employee organizations, including DOJ Association of Hispanic Employees for Advancement and Development, DOJ Gender Equality Network, Justice Native American Association, DOJ Pan Asia Employees Association and DOJ Pride, announced their support for the statement.
“George Floyd’s death reminds us yet again that the ongoing inequitable treatment of Black Americans demands structural and systemic improvements within the American justice system,” the group wrote. “This country’s history of racial violence and intimidation as well as pervasive implicit bias still permeates cities, towns, local police forces, prosecutors’ offices, and the day-to-day interactions of all Americans. DOJABA will not be silent.”
The black attorneys association said it supports Justice’s civil rights investigations into the death of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, but called on the department to take additional actions.
“One cannot address the ‘bad apples’ without focusing on the tree from which they fell,” DOJABA said of the police officers involved in the killings. The group noted the department has the authority to mandate action from local police forces, something the Trump administration has backed away from under a push from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"We encourage the department to continue to pursue police reform agreements that address the use of force and discriminatory policing on the basis of race or national origin, develop community partnerships within local police units, change use of force policies, increase diversity training and hiring, implement measures to reduce implicit bias, suspend federal funding for police departments found to have engaged in discriminatory practices, incorporate civilians into police training and use-of-force review, and enforce body camera usage. And we strongly encourage the prosecution of law enforcement officers who blatantly disregard the Constitutional rights of Black Americans to the fullest extent possible under federal law."
The group noted that Attorney General Bill Barr has “rightly observed” that the video of Floyd’s death is harrowing: “When you watch it,” they quoted Barr as saying, “and imagine that one of your own loved ones was being treated like that, and begging for their lives, it is impossible for any normal human being not to be struck in the heart with horror.”
They noted, however, the incident for them was less theoretical.
“For DOJABA members, it does not take harrowing images or painful videos to imagine the same fate,” they wrote. “Incidents like George Floyd’s murder reinforce the constant fear that we—or our loved ones—will experience such horror while going to the store, sitting in one’s home, or jogging.”
The employees highlighted their support for the department’s Community Oriented Police Service (COPS) Office and the Office of Justice Programs, and called on it to reform prosecution policies that "can serve as a further check on discriminatory policing practices and counteract mass incarceration."
“We hope that every member of the department will take this time to reflect on how our work affects communities of color and recommit to securing equal justice for Black Americans and all marginalized groups,” the group said. “We should take swift action against bias, discrimination, and misconduct when it occurs.”
The employees also stressed their support for protestors who have taken to the streets en masse to demand reforms to policing and criminal justice.
“We, as Black Americans, stand on the shoulders of those who were killed, beaten, hosed, and threatened by vicious dogs while protesting for basic civil rights,” they said. “They, too, were told that the rule of law may justify the use of force against them. Still, they marched. In that spirit, DOJABA urges respect for the countless peaceful protestors across this nation and opposes any violence or use of force against them by law enforcement officers.”
The group noted that Barr said during his confirmation hearing that the nation’s “freedom is most secure when we respect everyone else’s freedom. DOJABA said it will demand “the freedoms of Black Americans are mutually respected, unhampered by police misconduct, and equally protected under the law.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.