Statement by DOJABA regarding the unjust killings of Black Americans

The DOJ Employee Organizations, including the DOJ Association of Hispanic Employees for Advancement and Development (DOJ-AHEAD), DOJ Blacks in Government (DOJ BIG), DOJ Gender Equality Network (DOJ GEN), Justice Native American Association (JUNAA), DOJ Pan Asia Employees Association (DOJ Pan Asia), and DOJ Pride, collectively and emphatically stand behind the statement from DOJABA below.  Indeed, many of the issues raised in DOJABA’s statement have particular salience for the LGBTQ+ community—most notably, transgender persons of color—as reflected in the death of Tony McDade, a Black trans man who was shot and killed by police two weeks ago today.

Statement of the Department of Justice Association of Black Attorneys (DOJABA) Regarding the Unjust Killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Other Black Americans

The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall promoted one goal as “the basis of true democracy… that a [Black] child born to a Black mother . . . has exactly the same rights as a white baby born to the wealthiest person in the United States.”  He added, “It’s not true . . . [b]ut I challenge anybody to say it’s not a goal worth working for.”[1]

The brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery confirm that Justice Marshall’s goal of racial equality has not been realized.  George Floyd’s death is the latest in a long line of incidents of police-related violence involving Black Americans.  Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Tanisha Anderson, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, and countless others . . . their lives mattered.  DOJABA unequivocally affirms that Black lives not only matter, but should be valued, respected, and treated as a critical part of the American framework.

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.  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.  As Attorney General Barr rightly observed:

The video of police conduct in [the George Floyd] episode is harrowing.  When you watch it, 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. 

For DOJABA members, it does not take harrowing images or painful videos to imagine the same fate.  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.  Research shows that “[a]mong all groups, black men and boys face the highest lifetime risk of being killed by police.”[2]  To that end, DOJABA will continue to uphold its mission of monitoring the policies, objectives, and directives of the Department to ensure that appropriate consideration is given to the interests of Black Americans and other marginalized groups who may be affected by the actions of the Department.

DOJABA firmly supports the Department’s civil rights investigations related to the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, but that work should be expanded beyond the individual perpetrators.  One cannot address the “bad apples” without focusing on the tree from which they fell.  In 1994, following the brutal police beating of Rodney King, Congress authorized the Attorney General to investigate and litigate cases involving “a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers” that violates Constitutional or federal rights.[3]  These pattern or practice investigations remain an effective tool for fighting systemic racial injustice.  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.

DOJABA also supports the Department’s other effective tools for community-focused policing, including the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office and the Office of Justice Programs.  Relatedly, the Department may evaluate and pursue prosecution reform measures 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.  We should take swift action against bias, discrimination, and misconduct when it occurs.

Finally, DOJABA supports the Department’s unwavering protection of all Americans’ First Amendment rights to engage in peaceful protests.  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, 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 Department of Justice is the premier law enforcement agency in the country.  As Department attorneys, we all pledged to support and defend the Constitution, including its equal protection guarantees.  Attorney General Barr stated in his written testimony to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee during his nomination hearing, “[e]ach of us treasures our own freedom, but that freedom is most secure when we respect everyone else’s freedom.”  DOJABA is committed to ensuring that the freedoms of Black Americans are mutually respected, unhampered by police misconduct, and equally protected under the law.

[1] Marshall Urges Blacks to Press Equality Battle, Los Angeles Times (Aug. 11, 1988), https://www.latimes. com/archives/la-xpm-1988-08-11-mn-392-story.html.

[2] Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex.  Frank Edwards, Hedwig Lee, Michael Esposito.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Aug 2019, 116 (34) 16793-16798; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1821204116, https://www.pnas.org/content/116/34/16793.

[3] Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 34 U.S.C § 12601.

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