Today, Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts. The hearing, titled “War on Police: How the Federal Government Undermines State and Local Law Enforcement,” was convened by the Chair of the Subcommittee, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). Ms. Ifill testified at the request of the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE). Of the eight witnesses, two witnesses from the U.S. Department of Justice testified: Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division, and Ronald L. Davis, Director of the Community Oriented Policing Services.    

Ifill began her testimony, which included a list of 29 unarmed African Americans killed by police this year, by challenging the premise of the hearing that federal intervention in the nation’s policing crisis is anti-law enforcement. She described the “admittedly painful, but necessary national conversation about the police use of excessive force – sometimes fatally excessive force – against unarmed citizens” as an opportunity “to confront what FBI Director James Comey has described as hard truths about race and law enforcement.”  

Ifill also stressed the crucial role that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has played in both investigating and supporting the country’s law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. The DOJ uses its authority under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, to conduct civil rights investigations of law enforcement agencies whose officers have a track record of using excessive force or engaging in unlawful policing practices and to ensure full compliance with the Constitution and civil rights laws.

 “DOJ civil rights investigations have the potential of building trust between police and the communities they serve by advancing policies and practices that will result in fair and lawful policing,” said Ifill. “DOJ’s ongoing investigations of police departments do not constitute a ‘war’ on police. Instead they represent a collective and important effort to address illegal policing practices and to create the conditions for the development of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

Ifill reminded the Subcommittee of the crisis in confidence that surrounds this debate because of a widespread lack of officer and agency accountability.  She also noted that the support of DOJ investigations by some law enforcement leadership who recognize that effective policing requires community trust.  

“Today’s hearing comes at a time when public trust in police is at its lowest since 1993, after the highly publicized beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers was captured on video and aired nationwide. The public’s plummeting confidence in police is not surprising given sustained news reports and graphic videos of police-involved deaths and assaults of unarmed men, women and children. A disproportionate number of the victims of these assaults and killings are African American,” said Ifill. “Many communities have experienced consistent and repeated occurrences of police use of excessive force against unarmed citizens with little or no accountability for this pattern of conduct. Consequently, many community leaders, elected officials, and in some cases police chiefs, have asked DOJ to investigate.” 

Ifill concluded her remarks with a charge to augment federal support of local and state law enforcement through increased investigations that can yield solutions: “At a time when police violence against civilians, often with impunity, is on the rise, and public confidence in the police has fallen to the lowest level in over two decades, it is our view that DOJ should be doing more, not less, when it comes to federal oversight of state and local law enforcement agencies.”

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The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization.  Please refer to us in media attributions as the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund or LDF.