Justice Dept Lead Into A New Age On Civil Rights

“I want to ensure that the doors of justice remain open so all the people can feel that they are seen and heard, especially when we are talking about the most vulnerable among us. I am very hopeful that we will see the Justice Department truly be an engine of reform when it comes to enforcement of our nation’s federal civil rights laws.”- Kristen Clarke, United States Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights

The National Urban League advocated passionately and emphatically for Kristen Clarke’s nomination and confirmation to head the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The Department’s first reports on policing show exactly why.

Weeks before her confirmation in 2021, we unveiled 21 Pillars for Redefining Public Safety and Restoring Community Trust, a comprehensive framework for criminal justice advocacy that takes a holistic approach to public safety, the restoration of trust between communities and law enforcement, and a path forward for meaningful change.

Last week’s Justice Department report on Minneapolis policing, like its report on policing in Louisville issued in March, reaffirms the themes of 21 Pillars: collaborating with communities to build a restorative system, holding law enforcement personnel and agencies accountable for their actions, reforming divisive policies, requiring transparency, reporting, and data collection, and improving hiring standards and training. In fact, most of the recommendations in the reports correspond directly to one of our pillars.

The racism, violent abuse, and habitual misconduct that pervades the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments, as outlined in the reports, were not a revelation. People of color across the country, in communities large and small, have borne this brutality for generations.

What the reports did reveal is an enlightened approach by the Justice Department to achieving police reform and racial justice.

The Justice Department’s recommendation that the Louisville Police “improve community engagement in violent crime reduction” reflects a growing trend toward community-led violence intervention systems that the National Urban League documented in the recently-released Toward a New Age of Community Safety, a framework for violence prevention that we unveiled as part of the Safe & Just Communities Summit we convened with John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The investigations of the Minneapolis and Louisville police were two of eight investigations into law enforcement agencies opened during the Biden Administration by the Civil Rights Division. The Department also has ongoing investigations into the Phoenix Police Department; the Mount Vernon Police Department; the Louisiana State Police; the New York City Police Department’s Special Victims Division; the Worcester Police Department; and the Oklahoma City Police Department.

Speaking in Minneapolis last week, Clarke noted that the protests that unfolded there and around the country after George Floyd’s murder in 2020 were “a call for constitutional, fair and non-discriminatory policing and respect for people’s civil rights.”

President Biden took the first of several steps toward answering that call when he nominated Clarke to head what he called the “moral center” of the Justice Department. She was confirmed by the Senate as first woman to hold the position on the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder.

As her work to enforce the principles of the 21 Pillars demonstrates, she is living up to her promise to make the Justice Department an engine of reform so the doors of justice remain open to all.

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