Civil Rights Activists Demand Federal 'Czar' for Local Police

Tuesday, 26 Aug 2014 11:58 AM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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In an open letter published Monday, civil rights leaders and black politicians called on President Barack Obama and the Justice Department to take "immediate action" to implement policy changes to local law enforcement in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The letter, posted on the The Washington Post's website, outlines a series of demands, including demilitarizing the police, compelling police departments to adopt personnel practices that result in greater diversity, and the creation of a federal czar "specifically tasked with promoting the professionalization of local law enforcement."

In addition, the Justice Department "must set, implement, and monitor diversity hiring and retention guidelines for local police departments," reads the petition.

On Aug. 18, Obama expressed his support for a re-examination of the Defense Department's 1033 program, which provides surplus military equipment to state and local civilian law enforcement agencies for use in counter-narcotics and counterterrorism operations.

The letter was the brainchild of Maya Rockeymoore, president and CEO of the Center for Global Policy Solutions, and Angela Glover Blackwell, founder and CEO of PolicyLink.

"Police departments are funded by the public and must be accountable to the public," Blackwell said in a news release.

The signatories range from members of Congress, including Rep. Marcia Fudge, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), to nonpoliticians, such as Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners.

On Aug. 21, Fudge said she supports an idea outlined by Akron, Ohio, Mayor Don Plusquellic, and Akron Police Chief James Nice to have the FBI investigate officer-involved shootings nationwide.

According to a news release issued by Fudge, Plusquellic and Nice both sent letters to the FBI, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the National Urban League suggesting their plan be adopted.

It was also signed by Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO; Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Robert Brosage, co-director of the liberal Campaign for America's Future; and Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU.

While recognizing that questions remain about the facts surrounding the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown, they assert that "the pattern is too obvious to be a coincidence and too frequent to be a mistake," and that it is "time for the country to counter the effects of systemic racial bias, which impairs the perceptions, judgment, and behavior of too many of our law enforcement personnel and obstructs the ability of our police departments and criminal justice institutions to protect and serve all communities in a fair and just manner."

Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee's subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight, announced she would hold a hearing in September to examine the federal programs that enable local police departments to acquire military equipment and grants made through the Department of Homeland Security.


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