Thank you, everyone, thank you Secretary [Julian] Castro, I am so glad to be here. Although I hear yesterday was really the day that you all had literally living history in your room celebrating here with you. You know, this is a conference in day about strengthening communities. I want to take just a few minutes to talk about some of the recent tragic events in some of our communities involving police shootings which affect us all. I strongly condemn these recent and brutal police shootings in Texas and Illinois. We have had four more guardians slain and frankly our hearts are broken over this. I offer the families of these officers my condolences and I ask that all of us come together and keep them in our prayers.
As many of you know I have spent virtually my entire career working closely with state, local and federal law enforcements officers. I know that these men and women have volunteered to take on one of the most challenging, dangerous and important jobs that we have here. They do this for us. They move us aside, they run into danger for us, and so please again keep them in your prayers.
The president noted in his statement yesterday that the targeting of police officers is totally unacceptable, and we will continue to stand up for the safety of our officers wherever they serve. I also just want to add that the many shootings we have seen around the country in recent months are all particularly troubling.
We have seen violence strike at all segments of our community. It is a sad fact now that no one is safe. We’ve seen these brutal police killings. We’ve seen the particularly violent shootings of two Virginia reporters, who were killed on-air last week. Last month, members of our military were targeted in Tennessee; moviegoers, in Louisiana; and of course, in June, church parishioners in Charleston.
And of course, many of our cities are seeing an increase in violence that we’re looking at very closely. This wide violence against all of us, regardless of what uniform any of us wear, has to end. Our dialogue has to be focused on the preventing of violent crime as it touches all of us. And that is what the Justice Department’s Violence Reduction Network will address at a summit in Detroit later this month. We’ll be convening a meeting with law enforcement officers from around the country to discuss, along with representatives from the Department of Justice, to discuss the strategies to end this uptick in violent crime and to help prevent this from occurring.
This is one of a number of efforts we are taking to reduce violent crime. We take this very seriously. And again, I just want to say that the Department of Justice stands ready to support law enforcement around this country as they continue to fight every day to protect the communities that they serve and of which they are a vital part. And we also stand with every community member, police and civilian alike, as they all work towards a safer community for us all. Because of course strengthening communities, which requires all of our commitment, across the administration and, frankly, across this country, is really the focus of this conference and the focus of today’s events.
Nearly half a century ago, after presiding over the creation of this department, President Lyndon Johnson spoke at the dedication ceremony for the building where we are gathered today – the department’s permanent home. He told the women and men assembled before him – the public servants in those earliest years of this department’s existence – “The work that you do here each day will deeply influence the quality of life in America, the shape of our homes, our cities, our daily lives, the lives of our children and the kind of life they will lead tomorrow.” Those words are as true today as they have ever been, particularly in the context of our work on fair housing – because securing good housing for yourself and your family is an essential pathway to achieving the American dream.
After all, as you know well, fair housing isn’t just about access to shelter. It is also about access to employment, to education, to credit, to transportation, to safety and to a whole range of institutions and opportunities that constitute the basic fabric of everyday life. Where and how you live can determine the food you eat, the water you drink and the people you meet; it affects your health, your welfare and your ability to pursue your most treasured goals and ambitions. That is why the work being done in this conference – and the efforts in which you engage each and every day – are so vital: by promoting, defending and enforcing the Fair Housing Act – a law that President Johnson described as codifying “the promises of a century” – we are ensuring that every individual across America can claim our nation’s fundamental precepts of equality, dignity and freedom.
The Department of Justice is determined – and I am personally committed – to standing beside you at every step of the way as we move forward in the pursuit of that goal and the fulfillment of that mission. I am pleased to say that we have demonstrated our dedication over the course of this Administration through the extensive and innovative work we have done to enforce the Fair Housing Act and to protect the rights it guarantees. In just the last three years, our Civil Rights Division filed more than 100 lawsuits, including 69 pattern or practice lawsuits, to combat housing and lending discrimination. Thanks to settlements reached by the Justice Department’s Housing Section, hundreds of thousands of victims of housing and lending discrimination have received more than one billion dollars in monetary relief over the last four years alone. And we have made clear – in every case and every instance – that we will never stand down in the face of injustice; we will never hold back in the fight for what is right; and we will never accept infringements on the fair and equal housing opportunities that every individual is guaranteed by law.
We see those infringements in a variety of contexts and the cases we have prosecuted have involved a range of illegal behaviors – from racial discrimination by private landlords and management companies, to unlawful residential segregation by local housing authorities, to discrimination against families with children or persons with disabilities. One investigation found that a nationwide mortgage lender had systematically charged higher interest rates to Hispanic and African-American borrowers. Another revealed that city officials, law enforcement and a local housing authority in Los Angeles County had engaged in a targeted campaign to discourage African-Americans from moving to and living in the area by enforcing the Housing Choice Voucher program in a prejudicial manner. And just two months ago, we reached the conclusion of a case in North Carolina in which employees of a nonprofit administering the Section 8 voucher program were found to be sexually harassing female participants in exchange for services – making women believe that they had to either accept degrading and discriminatory behavior, or be left to live on the streets. With the help of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Public and Indian Housing, we achieved a consent decree that won more than $2.7 million in monetary relief for the victims of this appalling conduct.
These examples illustrate just a few of the kinds of investigations we’ve conducted in recent years, using time-tested strategies and methods that, in some cases, have been a part of our arsenal for decades. For example, the Civil Rights Division’s Fair Housing Testing Program has long been an effective tool for rooting out discrimination in circumstances where people may not even realize that they are being treated differently from their counterparts. Under this program, testers from the Department of Justice have posed as people with identical qualifications seeking housing, but who differ on the basis of their race, national origin, or other protected status, in order to determine whether a housing provider is complying with federal fair housing laws. Since 1991, the department has filed over 100 cases based on evidence generated by the Fair Housing Testing Program, resulting in over $13 million in damages and civil penalties.
Those are extremely positive results. But even as we recommit ourselves to programs that have been effective in the past, we are also exploring new ways to conduct our mission more efficiently, more effectively and in ways that account for contemporary housing trends. I am proud to say that, in the past few months alone, we have made unprecedented advances. We have drawn on new technology, cutting-edge research and evidence-based strategies to conduct testing electronically – thereby dramatically expanding the reach of the Fair Housing Testing Program at a fraction of the time and expense. And we are examining new fields and evolving industries that have not previously been subject to scrutiny to locate areas where discrimination is prevalent and to target the places where Americans are being systematically locked out, let down and left behind.
This work could not be more important. We have seen even recently how divisions between individuals and groups can generate mistrust, breed resentment and – too often – erupt into violence. We have seen how a persistent lack of opportunity and unyielding barriers to success, can corrode our neighborhoods and weaken our communities. And we have seen how even passive, de facto segregation can make us feel less connected to our fellow Americans, less supported by our larger communities and less united as a nation and as a people.
That is why I am so committed to protecting the rights and opportunities that help bring our communities together. It is why I am more determined than ever to vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act with every tool at my disposal – including challenges based on unfair and unacceptable discriminatory effects, particularly now that the Supreme Court has vindicated our position that the Fair Housing Act encompasses disparate impact claims. And it is why I am proud to support the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s new rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which is a crucial step toward ending historic patterns of segregation and removing disparities based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s new policy is an idea whose time has long since come. In fact, it is a notion that is central to the words and the spirit of the Fair Housing Act itself as it was written in 1968, when it called on our country to actively dismantle segregation and to foster integration in its place. It should not be a controversial endeavor; after all, efforts like this one have been supported for years by both Democrats and Republicans, including Secretary George Romney when he led the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Nixon Administration. The work that the Department of Housing and Urban Development will do in this area is exciting and historic and will make a real and positive difference in the lives of Americans and the strength of our nation. And the Department of Justice intends to serve as a full and committed partner in that important effort.
Of course, I have no illusions that our goals will be easy to achieve. The number and complexity of the challenges we still face today – nearly half a century after the signing of the Fair Housing Act – is a reminder that the road to progress is rarely straight or smooth. But I also have no doubt that, if we remain committed to our principles; if we stay dedicated to our responsibilities; and if we devote ourselves fully to this just cause, we can fulfill the promise of fair housing for all those who live in America today and for the countless others who will one day call our nation home. We can draw our communities closer to one another, bridging divides of suspicion and mistrust. And we can serve the distinctly American principle that has fueled this country’s progress since its inception: that no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you come from, you should have a fair and equal opportunity to live, to work and to succeed.
As you continue this important conference, and as you return to your critical responsibilities, I want you to know that you not only have my deep and enduring gratitude; you also have my full and unwavering support. With the dedication and the passion of the talented individuals in this room, I am optimistic about all that we will achieve together; I am excited about the progress we will make in the days ahead; and I am eager to move forward with all of you as we build the more empowered communities and the stronger country that all Americans deserve.
Thank you so much. Keep up the outstanding work.