(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – In response to the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, House Judiciary Committee Democrats sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) demanding prompt action, including the opening of pattern and practice investigations of police misconduct. The letter calls for the DOJ to investigate the prosecutors involved in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed African American man who was shot in cold blood while running in his neighborhood. The letter also calls for DOJ to open pattern and practice investigations into the police departments in Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was gunned down in her own home by police, and in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where George Floyd was killed after a police officer kneeled on his neck and body. The House Judiciary Committee will also be pursuing additional oversight and legislative action in June to address the series of racially motivated violence and unjust policing practices that have resulted in the deaths of African Americans across the country.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) released the following statement:
“America’s history of racism and racially motivated violence is a plague that continues to live on through generations. It’s an ugly truth that can be seen today in disproportionate rates of COVID deaths, in discriminatory police enforcement of social distancing rules, in racial profiling, and in the unconstitutional treatment of African Americans by law enforcement, among other examples. The federal government has a critical role to play in promoting a culture of accountability for all law enforcement organizations, including at the state and local level. This is why House Judiciary Democrats have sent a letter today to the U.S. Department of Justice to demand action.In addition, I expect, as the primary committee of jurisdiction over civil rights law and law enforcement, the Judiciary Committee will be engaging in oversight and considering legislation in the coming weeks to address the crisis of racial profiling, excessive force by law enforcement and lost trust between police departments and the communities they serve.”
Federal law prohibits any governmental authority from engaging in a “pattern or practice” of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives persons of their constitutional rights. This federal statute also authorizes the Attorney General to initiate a civil action to obtain appropriate equitable or declaratory relief to eliminate such a pattern or practice.
In the wake of high-profile applications of fatal force by police against unarmed African American men in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Chicago, the Justice Department investigated policing practices in those cities and uncovered rampant abuses of constitutional rights and civil liberties. During the Obama Administration, the Justice Department negotiated consent decree agreements with the police departments in all four cities.
Following President Trump’s election and his appointment of Jefferson B. Sessions as Attorney General, the Justice Department abruptly changed its interpretation of its statutory role to eliminate patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct in local police departments.
In May 2019, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Chairwoman & Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-CA) and several House Judiciary Committee Democrats sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice seeking information about actions it was taking to reduce police-involved violence, including its use of consent decrees and pattern and practice investigations. To date, there has been no response. On September 19, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to address unconstitutional conduct by state and local law enforcement officials.
In addition to Chairman Nadler, today’s letter was signed by Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Karen Bass (D-CA), Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Val B. Demings (D-FL), J. Luis Correa (D-CA), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Sylvia R. Garcia (D-TX), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), and Veronica Escobar (D-TX).
Full text of today’s letter is available here.