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Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke Delivers Remarks at the African American Mayors Association 2023 Conference Legacy Awards Dinner


Washington, DC
United States

Good evening, and thank you for the kind introduction. It’s great to be here with you tonight. I really appreciate everyone at the AAMA for welcoming me here today.

I’m grateful for all of the tremendous work that you all are doing to make your communities – and this country – a better place.  As mayors, you are on the front lines, protecting our communities, and confronting the most difficult challenges facing our country.  So many of these challenges are tied to matters of civil rights and racial justice. Ensuring police accountability. Preventing and responding to hate crimes. Protecting the right to vote. Furthering environmental justice. Making sure that public services and our communities are accessible to everyone. I know that many of you are thinking hard every day about how to address difficult issues like these. We greatly appreciate the magnitude and breadth of the issues that you’re dealing with in your roles leading our nation’s cities.

Your legacies and the AAMA’s ongoing efforts today underscore why the fight against injustice remains critical and why our country’s public servants – and everyone in this room – must continue to fight every day to protect our most hallowed rights. We fight to uphold justice, even when it seems like the deck is stacked against us. It is during those times that we must continue that pursuit of justice until all Americans secure the rights we hold most sacred.

At the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, we are responsible for ensuring our most vital rights – the rights that make America a true democracy – are protected. Now, I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t a challenging time to be tasked with protecting rights like the right to constitutional policing, the right to vote, the right to bodily autonomy, the right to be free from discrimination.

But we are not strangers to challenging times. We have been down this road before. Indeed, the Justice Department was borne out of one such period in our country’s history. As Attorney General Merrick Garland frequently reminds the public, one of the principal reasons the Justice Department was created after the Civil War was to coordinate efforts to prosecute white supremacists like the Ku Klux Klan that were terrorizing Black communities and using violence to block them from exercising their constitutional rights.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

The department remains committed to pursuing justice. And while there is much work that remains to be done, the Justice Department has made significant gains on some of the biggest civil rights issues during this Administration. This includes our efforts to enforce hate crimes laws, promote police accountability, and protect fair housing opportunities.

We’re 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 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 to our cities.  We will continue to be relentless in our efforts to combat hate crimes, to support communities, and to hold perpetrators accountable.

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 racist beliefs that led them to stereotype and dehumanize Mr. Arbery simply because he was Black.  Ultimately, two defendants received life sentences, and the third, who is 52 years old, was sentenced to 35 years.

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. 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.

Our work is in the criminal justice space is motivated by a core principle: Every American in our country deserves constitutional policing.

We all remember the tragic death of Breonna Taylor three years ago. Ms. Taylor should have awakened in her apartment, just like any other morning. Tragically, she did not. Prior 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. 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.

We have also opened a civil pattern or practice investigation into the Louisville Metro government and police department. Based on our exhaustive investigation, we found 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. Fortunately, the city has committed to working with the Justice Department to embark on a path to reform to help ensure constitutional policing going forward.

This work is not limited to Louisville: we’re also investigating other law enforcement agencies right now in Minneapolis, Phoenix, New York City, Louisiana and more.

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. We have launched an anti-redlining initiative that has secured over $84 million to date to remedy the economic harms resulting from these practices. In January, the department secured its 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. Last month, we secured another significant settlement in a redlining case against Park National Bank, which is headquartered near Columbus, Ohio. This practice of redlining – failing to provide mortgage lending and other services in communities of color – is unlawful and must be stopped.

These are just some of the issues we are tackling here in the Civil Rights Division. We’re also fighting on the environmental justice front, we’re forging ahead with our work in the disability space to protect our most vulnerable community members, we’re confronting voter suppression wherever it rears its head, and we’re taking on increasingly virulent attacks against LGBTQI+ community members and children.

Before I leave, I want you to know that I understand the challenges ahead. These are not easy times, but history reminds us of the need to keep marching forward. We in the Civil Rights Division will continue to deliver justice and equity. We will continue to use the law as a weapon against unlawful discrimination. We will continue to hold perpetrators of hate and police misconduct accountable. And I am privileged to call you partners in our work. Thank you.

Civil Rights
Updated April 20, 2023