Remarks as prepared for delivery
WASHINGTON, D.C. – March 12, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Thank you all for being here this afternoon. I want to address the heinous attacks that occurred against two brave law enforcement officers in Ferguson, Missouri, last night.
I unequivocally condemn these repugnant attacks. I know that all of us in the law enforcement family—and all Americans across the country—are hoping and praying for a speedy recovery. And I stand ready to offer the full investigative resources of the Department of Justice to find the perpetrators of this attack and hold them accountable.
You know, seeing this attack last night turned my stomach—because in the week since the Justice Department released its pattern-and-practice report on Ferguson, we have begun to see really important signs of progress. There were good-faith steps being taken within the city’s leadership to move in a new, more cooperative direction that is beneficial to law enforcement and to community residents. We still have a long way to go to bring about the systemic change needed—but the early indications had been truly positive.
What happened last night was a pure ambush. This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson, but someone who wants to stoke unrest. This disgusting and cowardly attack might have been intended to unravel any sense of progress, but I hope that doesn’t happen. Incidents like the one we have witnessed throw into sharp relief why conversations like the one we convened today—to build trust between law enforcement and community members—are so important.
One year ago, the Obama Administration launched the groundbreaking My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which seeks to create opportunities for all young people in this country to improve their lives and reach their full potential—no matter who they are or where they live. As a part of this effort, the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force recommended that the Justice Department establish a program to help resolve long-standing tensions between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. And six months ago, I was proud to announce the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice—a nationwide program designed to enhance procedural justice, reduce bias and support reconciliation.
Through the committed work of Department leaders like Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason of the Office of Justice Programs—who is here with us today—and with the partnership of Department components including the COPS Office, the Civil Rights Division, the Community Relations Service and the Office on Violence Against Women, we are redoubling our commitment to restoring faith in the integrity of law enforcement wherever that faith has been eroded.
Today, I am announcing three significant new steps we are taking as part of this exciting initiative. First, we have selected six cities to serve as pilot sites for innovative strategies to strengthen bonds between police and citizens they serve: Birmingham, Alabama; Stockton, California; Gary, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Fort Worth, Texas. By helping to develop programs that serve their own diverse experiences, these cities will stand on the leading edge of our effort to confront pressing issues in communities across the country.
Second, we have launched a new online resource, available at trustandjustice.org, which will advance cutting-edge research and information about best practices and trust-building policy.
Third, we’re offering training, mentoring, expert consultations, and assistance on racial reconciliation directly to police departments and communities across America through the Office of Justice Programs’ Diagnostic Center.
These are groundbreaking advances—but the Department of Justice will not accomplish these goals alone. We will continue to work side-by-side with law enforcement to identify opportunities for positive change. And we will work with communities to seek avenues for building more healthy environments.
From my own decades-long career in law enforcement, and as the brother of a retired police officer, I know that the overwhelming majority of America’s brave men and women in public safety do their jobs with integrity and at great personal risk. I have enormous respect for the vital role that they play in all of America’s communities – and for the sacrifices that they and their families are too often called to make on behalf of their country.
The dangers they face have been made clear recently not only with the attacks we experienced last night, but also with the killing of Officer Robert Wilson III in Philadelphia last week and with the tragic loss of Deputy U.S. Marshal Josie Wells in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier this week. These devastating incidents serve as a reminder that our law enforcement officers perform a job that is extremely serious, deeply heroic, and deserving of our most emphatic support.
I am committed to ensuring that the reforms we put in place do not impose additional risks on our law enforcement officers in an already hazardous environment. There should be no situation in which an officer’s life is put in jeopardy because of concerns that by appropriately defending themselves, they might be viewed as committing a crime. That is why the Justice Department’s discussions about these matters have centered on proven, common-sense and evidence-based collaborative measures that protect our citizens, strengthen our neighborhoods, and keep our officers safe.
I recognize our goals will not be easy to achieve. Change will not occur overnight. But in conversations like this one—with law enforcement, civil rights, youth and community leaders–I have been struck not by our divisions, but by our common interest in creating the more just society that all Americans deserve. I know that we are undertaking the crucial and necessary work of our time—work that will make a lasting difference for generations to come.