Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for being here. I want to thank U.S. Attorney [Barbara] McQuade for that kind introduction and for her outstanding service to the Eastern District of Michigan. I also want to recognize a number of valued colleagues who are with me today: Director [Ron] Davis of our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS Office; Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division; Assistant Attorney General [Karol] Mason of the Office of Justice Programs; and Director [Paul] Monteiro of the Community Relations Service. I also want to thank Congressman [John] Conyers for his longstanding dedication to equal justice for all, as well as the mayors and police chiefs who have traveled from neighboring cities to be here. We are all deeply grateful to President [Roy] Wilson and his colleagues at Wayne State University for graciously agreeing to host this forum – it simply wouldn’t be possible without them. And I especially want to thank Mayor [Mike] Duggan and Chief [James] Craig for welcoming me to Detroit and for their tireless efforts to ensure that all who call this great city home receive the safety, the dignity and the respect that they deserve.
It’s a pleasure to be here and it’s a privilege to be joined by so many devoted law enforcement officers, committed civic officials, passionate advocates and inspiring faith leaders as we gather to identify what we can do together to develop positive and lasting relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities we serve.
The Department of Justice supports that vital work in a number of ways. Our Civil Rights Division works with local law enforcement agencies to ensure constitutional policing practices. Our COPS Office and our Office of Justice Programs provide funding, training and technical assistance in a wide range of areas to our law enforcement partners. And our Community Relations Service promotes reconciliation in local communities fractured by crisis.
These are all important efforts. But as I’ve said time and time again, we cannot build stronger and safer communities in the span of one year, or in the course of one administration. We cannot forge bonds of trust between residents and law enforcement overnight. Progress is hard. It takes time. And as the awful events of the last month have reminded us, it does not follow a straight course. There will always be hardships, heartbreaks and setbacks along the way.
Even so, I am here in Detroit because I know that progress is possible – and because I firmly believe that in the face of recent tragedies, we must not give in to cynicism or despair. Rather, we must redouble our efforts build to on the progress we’ve made. We must continue to have hard conversations, to ask difficult questions and to find creative and effective solutions. And we must remind ourselves that at the end of the day, we all want the same things: to be heard and understood; to be acknowledged and respected; and to live lives of safety, opportunity and purpose.
Today’s meeting is the first in a series of gatherings we are holding around the nation – called Justice Forums – as a sign of our commitment to our shared goal. The purpose of these gatherings is to bring together local stakeholders in order to critically examine police-community issues, to open new channels for dialogue and exchange and to commit to specific solutions that communities can pursue together.
When the Department of Justice is involved in conversations about police-community relations, we often focus on the role that federal interventions and resources can play in changing the status quo. We are committed to doing as much as we can, but the real work has to happen from the ground up in each community, with the engagement and commitment of local leaders like you. Today, what I want to hear from you are concrete ideas about how community members and local law enforcement can begin to repair broken bonds. I want this to be a real working session that results in a written set of ideas: things you have seen work well here in Detroit, or in Dearborn, or Flint; things you think other jurisdictions might learn from. And I’m asking you to be brief and to keep the focus on actions we should be taking. The Department of Justice will publicize these ideas in order to help drive the dialogue here in Michigan. We will use your example to inspire other cities and towns to develop their own solutions. And we will continue to support your efforts in the weeks and months to come. I have asked our U.S. Attorneys to remain engaged with the work that emerges from these meetings. They will be available to hear your concerns, to consider your proposals, to offer advice and technical assistance and to serve as a liaison to the wider department.
Now, we at the Justice Department know that these forums are a beginning, not an end. We know that determined citizens like you have been working on these issues for years. And we know that while the Justice Department can provide funding, technical assistance and expertise, there is no substitute for the kind of deep, firsthand knowledge that you can offer. It is people like you – the people who live in a community’s neighborhoods, who teach at its schools, who work at its businesses and who patrol its streets – who will truly make the difference.
And that gives me hope, because at every stop on my travels from coast to coast – including here in Detroit – I meet incredible Americans who are eager to add their voice to the conversation; to lend their hands to the task in front of us; and to bend their shoulders to the hard work ahead. That’s how we have overcome difficult times in our past. And that’s how we will overcome the difficult time that we are experiencing now.
I want to thank each of you for choosing to participate in that urgent work. I want to applaud your willingness to find a path forward together. And I want you to know that you have a staunch partner and a faithful ally in this Department of Justice. Thank you.