—The U.S. Department of Justice will announce stiff new protocols to curtail profiling by federal law enforcement in the coming days, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday evening.
Speaking at an interfaith service and community forum at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta following last week’s grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, Holder previewed the long-awaited announcement, which would be the first change to federal law enforcement guidelines on racial profiling in more than a decade.
“In the coming days, I will announce updated Justice Department guidance regarding profiling by federal law enforcement, which will institute rigorous new standards—and robust safeguards—to help end racial profiling, once and for all,” Holder said at the first of several planned regional community discussions in the aftermath of the Ferguson grand jury decision. “This new guidance will codify our commitment to the very highest standards of fair and effective policing.”
President George W. Bush banned the use of profiling for race in 2003 through the Department of Justice’s Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, but left loopholes for national security investigations and border security. In his 2001 Address to a Joint Session of Congress, Bush said the practice is “wrong and we will end it in America.” Those guidelines, which have been under review by the Justice Department for years, only ended profiling for race, not religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or other factors.
Holder has spoken previously about having been the subject of profiling, even when he was a federal prosecutor in Washington. Speaking to students at a St. Louis Community College in August after the death of Michael Brown, Holder told of being stopped by a police officer as he ran to catch a movie in Georgetown, a predominately white neighborhood of Washington, as well as unwarranted traffic stops and car searches on the New Jersey Turnpike.
“I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me,” Holder said at the time.
Holder’s comments Monday evening come as he is has become the face of the Obama administration’s response to the Brown shooting and subsequent community unrest. Obama tapped Holder in August to take steps to bridge the trust gap that has emerged between law enforcement and the communities they serve, particularly in minority neighborhoods.
“We are dealing with concerns that are truly national in scope and that threaten the entire nation,” Holder told the thousands of attendees. “Broadly speaking, without mutual understanding between citizens–whose rights must be respected–and law enforcement officers–who make tremendous and often-unheralded personal sacrifices every day to preserve public safety–without that trust, without that interaction, there can be no meaningful progress. Our police officers cannot be seen as an occupying force disconnected from the communities they serve. Bonds that have been broken must be restored. Bonds that never existed must now be created.”
Earlier Monday, President Barack Obama announced executive orders to create a Task Force on 21st Century Policing and to order a review of the federal government’s support of state and local law enforcement purchases of military-style equipment. The White House also announced a request to Congress for $75 million over three years to help put 50,000 body-cameras on state and local police officers.
Before a meeting with Georgia community, faith, and law enforcement leaders, Holder said the situation in Ferguson, while tragic, “presents this nation a really unique opportunity” to address “issues that have for too long been ignored.”
Holder appeared to signal that the new guidelines would not eradicate profiling in every instance, but would further curtail its use, though how was not clear Monday. Department of Justice officials declined to further preview the official announcement.
Minority and civil rights groups have long called for the Obama administration to stiffen federal profiling rules, particularly in response to the use of profiling against the Muslim community. They have also called on the department to impose the guidelines on state and local jurisdictions that receive federal funding or work in concert with federal officers.
Speaking at the packed church where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, Holder assured the audience that the Department of Justice’s investigation into Brown’s shooting death by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and its inquiry into the practices of the city’s police department are “ongoing and active.” Acknowledging that federal law sets an “extremely high legal bar in these types of cases,” Holder reiterated that the investigations would be “conducted both thoroughly and in a timely manner—following the facts and the law wherever they may lead.”
But Holder also spoke out against protests in Ferguson and other places that have turned violent at times. “It is deeply unfortunate that this vital conversation was interrupted, and this young man’s memory dishonored, by destruction and looting on the part of a relatively small criminal element,” Holder said.
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