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Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke Delivers Remarks at the 12th Annual Black Women’s Roundtable “Women of Power” National Summit


National Harbor, MD
United States

Remarks as Delivered

Good morning. It is great to be here. I want to just start off by thanking my dear friend Melanie for her leadership and for her advocacy and for her extraordinary work effort. And I want to thank you the Black Women’s Roundtable State Conveners and affiliates from across the country. It’s a real honor to be with you today. And it’s great to be back, it’s great to be back to the Black Women’s Roundtable National Summit this year. A lot has happened since I spoke to this group a year ago. I left, I understood the assignment, and I’m back to provide an update on our civil rights enforcement work at the Department of Justice.

But let me start with something that has not changed, and that is the importance of strong women leaders coming together and working to empower themselves and their communities. As we commemorate Women’s History Month, I am reminded of all of the women, especially Black women, who have helped to steer our country towards fulfilling its foundational promises of equal justice and opportunity for all. It was right here in Maryland where Harriet Tubman was born into slavery, escaped and returned to free others from bondage. And it’s right here in Maryland where Juanita Jackson Mitchell, a powerful civil rights advocate throughout the 20th century, went on become the first Black woman to practice law in this state. So, to all of the leaders in this room, you are urgently needed, now more than ever, in your profession, in your business, in your cities, counties, states, on your campuses, in your courtrooms and here on the national stage. Because indeed, we find ourselves at a crossroads as we are confronting many of the same challenges that women and people of color have confronted throughout American history.

Just a few weeks ago, I had the honor of venturing down to Selma, Alabama, to mark 58 years since Bloody Sunday, the infamous day when peaceful civil rights protestors were brutally beaten by Alabama state troopers as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On that day, troopers beat protesters, including the late Congressman John Lewis, who bore the scars from that attack throughout his life. And the moral outrage from Bloody Sunday, of course, is what led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yet today, we face some of the most significant threats when to comes to our democracy.

Voting discrimination and voter suppression are rampant. 

White supremacy and racially-motivated hate crimes are alive and well. The conditions inside our jails and prisons are inhumane and unconstitutional. 

But to paraphrase Dr. King, we can find strength in our struggles and hope in our darkest moments, and we must continue to stand up.

As the first woman and the first Black woman to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, I am here to reassure you that we are going to continue to stand up. The Justice Department is committed to defending the civil rights of all people across our country. 

We are confronting voter suppression wherever it rears its ugly head and have filed lawsuits from Louisiana to Texas to Arizona.

We are taking on banks that engage in modern-day redlining and holding them accountable when they fail to provide equal access to credit to Black people and other people of color. In January, the department secured the largest, its single largest redlining settlement ever involving [City National] Bank, in the city of Los Angeles. The settlement will provide over $31 million to impacted individuals and communities. And earlier this week, we submitted a statement of interest in federal court right here in Maryland making clear that appraisal discrimination violates the Fair Housing Act. Discriminatory home appraisals are unlawful. They perpetuate the racial wealth gap in denying communities of color the full value of home ownership.

We’re also tackling hate crimes head-on and using our federal civil rights laws, like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act to hold accountable the defendant who killed 10 Black people at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York. Last summer, a federal grand jury indicted that defendant on 27 counts, including hate crimes charges. As Attorney General Merrick Garland made clear after this indictment, the Justice Department fully recognizes the threat that hatred and violent extremism pose to the safety of American people and American democracy, and we will continue to be relentless in our efforts to combat hate crimes, to support the communities terrorized by them and to hold accountable those who perpetrate them.

We also secured convictions and sentences against all three men responsible for the racially-motivated killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. When we brought those defendants to trial, the evidence showed that the defendants held strongly – had strong racist beliefs that led them to stereotype and dehumanize Mr. Arbery simply because he was Black. After the sentencing in those cases in August of last year, two defendants received life sentences, and the third, who is 52 years old, was sentenced to 35 years.

But let me just give you a snapshot of what one week looks like with respect to our hate crimes enforcement work. Last Friday, a Mississippi man was sentenced to federal prison for burning a cross in the front yard of a Black family while yelling racial slurs and threats. On Wednesday of this week, we indicted a man in Gainesville, Florida, after he used his vehicle to carry out a racially-motivated attack on a group of six men, six Black men on a public road in Cedar Key, Florida. And just yesterday, a white supremacist in Georgia received a 20 year sentence following a racially-motivated shooting aimed at killing Black and Arab Americans at gas stations in Jonesboro. Just one week.

We are also committed to the principle that no one is above the law, and we are holding law enforcement officers accountable when they violate civil and constitutional rights. In the past year, we have secured federal convictions and sentences against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer who killed George Floyd, and the three other officers who failed to intervene to stop the killing. Last July, all four officers were sentenced, with Chauvin receiving more than 20 years in prison.

This past Monday marked three years since the tragic death of Breonna Taylor. Nearly three years ago to the day, on March 13, 2020, Ms. Taylor should have awakened in her apartment, just like any other morning. And tragically, she did not. Leading up to that fateful day, Louisville police officers drafted what they knew was a false affidavit to support a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home. When officers executed the warrant, they broke down the door to her apartment. She had a guest who lawfully owned a handgun and who thought intruders were breaking into her apartment. This led to an exchange of gunfire that was unavoidable and that resulted in Ms. Taylor’s death. Last summer, the Justice Department brought charges against the officers who falsified the warrant and against another officer who recklessly discharged his firearm during the execution of the warrant.

Our work is motivated by one core principle: Every American in our country deserves constitutional policing.

We also opened a civil pattern or practice investigation into the Louisville Metro government and police department. And after an exhaustive two-year investigation, we announced just last week our findings that the Louisville police department and Louisville Metro Government engaged in a “pattern or practice” of conduct that violates our Constitution and our federal laws. We found that the department unlawfully discriminates against Black people in its enforcement activities, uses excessive force, including unjustified neck restraints and the unreasonable use of police dogs and tasers, conducts searches based on invalid warrants and more. Some officers demonstrated disrespect for the people they are sworn to protect and were videotaped insulting and calling Black people “monkeys,” “animal” and “boy.” Fortunately, there is hope for a new day in Louisville. The city has committed to working with the Justice Department to embark on a new path to reform. We will work to institute a consent decree that will be monitored by a court to help ensure constitutional policing in that city going forward.

And we’re also investigating other police departments right now in Minneapolis, Phoenix, New York City, the Louisiana State Police and more.

Finally, the department is continuing our work to combat sexual harassment and human trafficking issues that disproportionately affect women and girls. We’re bringing lawsuits to address sexual harassment and sex discrimination committed in the workplace and also by unscrupulous landlords in rental housing. We have a special initiative that is focused on combating sexual harassment in the context of housing. So far, we have filed 29 lawsuits and recovered almost $10 million for victims. And we’re holding traffickers accountable, like an Alabama man that we prosecuted for trafficking and exploiting women with substance use disorders. That man was sentenced in December to 60 years in prison. We’re also engaged in critically important work to advance gender equity, in all its forms, including standing up for women’s bodily autonomy and defending their rights to access healthcare of their own choosing. These are not easy times, but history reminds us of the need to keep marching forward. To keep marching forward with the courage displayed by those who peacefully marched in Selma on Bloody Sunday. To march forward with the conviction of Harriet Tubman. To march forward with the shining brilliance of Constance Baker Motley. To march forward in our power, like our fearless Vice President Kamala Harris.

I leave here, and I want you to know, I understand the assignment. We will continue to deliver justice and equity. We will continue to use our law as a weapon against discrimination. We will continue to hold perpetrators of hate and police misconduct accountable. And I am privileged to call all of you partners in our work.

Thank you so much for this opportunity to be with you today.

Civil Rights
Updated March 17, 2023