Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good afternoon, everyone and thank you for being here.
Before we begin today, I want to speak briefly about the tragic shooting that occurred in San Diego last night, claiming the life of one San Diego Police Officer and seriously wounding another. Agents from the FBI and ATF are on the scene assisting local law enforcement with their investigation and the Department of Justice will make any resources available to our partners as the inquiry continues. We don’t have all the details of what happened last night and the victims of the shooting have not yet been identified. But I want to take this opportunity to express my condolences to the family, loved ones and colleagues of the fallen officer. I want to offer my prayers that the wounded officer will make a swift and full recovery. And I want to reiterate that the Department of Justice is firmly committed to giving law enforcement officers at every level the tools, training and support they need to come home safe. As we have been reminded too many times in the past few weeks, the brave men and women who wear the badge put their lives on the line every day in order to protect the public and the Justice Department is determined to honor their courage and sacrifice by standing beside them in every way that we can.
I also want to take a moment to address a major ruling on voting rights in North Carolina that was issued just a few hours ago. I am pleased that the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has struck down a law that the court described in its ruling as “one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.” As the court found, this law was passed with discriminatory intent. It targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision” – imposing stringent ID requirements, reducing same-day registration and constraining out-of-precinct voting to place barriers between citizens and the ballot box. And it sent a message that contradicted some of the most basic principles of our democracy. The ability of Americans to have a voice in the direction of their country – to have a fair and free opportunity to help write the story of this nation – is fundamental to who we are and who we aspire to be. Going forward, the Department of Justice will continue our work to protect that sacred right for all.
I want to thank Governor [John Bel] Edwards for welcoming me to Louisiana and for his leadership during this exceptionally difficult time. I also want to thank Mayor [Kip] Holden, Colonel [Michael] Edmonson, Chief [Carl] Dabadie and Sheriff [Sid] Gatreaux for their hospitality and their partnership. And I want to recognize the people of Baton Rouge for the grace, strength and compassion that they have shown in the midst of so much loss and grief. This city’s response to tragedy is an inspiration to Americans everywhere as our nation works to heal its wounds, to bridge its divisions and to emerge from this challenging period stronger and more united than ever before.
I am here in Baton Rouge to lend my support – and the support of the entire Department of Justice – to that hard and urgent work. Yesterday, I had the privilege of joining Vice President [Joe] Biden, Governor Edwards, local law enforcement officers and members of the community at a vigil for Deputy [Brad] Garafola and Officers [Matthew] Gerald and [Montrell] Jackson. Appropriately, the vigil was held at the Healing Place Church and while the pain this community feels will not soon fade away, the outpouring of love and solidarity that filled that hallowed place yesterday made it abundantly clear that Baton Rouge will heal and we will heal together.
In addition, I’ve had a chance to meet with some of the officers who were wounded on the morning of July 17th and their families; with the families of the officers we tragically lost; and with the brave first responders who ran towards the sound of gunfire. I want to take this opportunity to publicly express my gratitude to all of these men and women for their service and my admiration for their courage. I want to add my prayers for a swift and full recovery for Deputy [Nicholas] Tullier, who remains in critical condition. And I want to reiterate that Baton Rouge’s law enforcement community has the full support of the Department of Justice as they grapple with the aftermath of the shootings, which so directly touched their lives.
I also met earlier today with members of Alton Sterling’s family, to offer my condolences and to thank them for their courage in calling for peace in the midst of their own pain and grief. The Department of Justice is currently conducting a civil rights investigation into Mr. Sterling’s death and while we cannot comment on pending matters, I want to make clear that we will conduct a full and fair investigation, as we do in all our cases. Finally, I just completed a community roundtable meeting convened by the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service, where local leaders, advocates and residents discussed the steps that Baton Rouge needs to take in order to ensure that all residents of this city – regardless of the color of their skin or the color of their uniform – enjoy the safety, dignity and respect that they deserve.
The Department of Justice is working closely with the people and government of Baton Rouge to help make that ideal a reality. In addition to the Community Relations Service’s mediation efforts and the Civil Rights Division’s investigation into Mr. Sterling’s death, agents from the ATF, the FBI and the U.S. Marshal’s service have been on the ground assisting local authorities with their investigation. Our Office of Justice Programs is making funding available for victim services and other pressing needs. The FBI, along with our Office for Victims of Crime, is providing victim support and grief counseling to officers and families. And our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services is facilitating peer-to-peer support for local law enforcement officers and providing help with resources like COPS Hiring Program grants. Later this afternoon, I will meet with U.S. Attorney [Walt] Green of the Middle District of Louisiana to receive the latest updates on these initiatives and to discuss how we might expand our support for Baton Rouge in the days ahead.
Now, I know that it will take time for this community and this nation to recover from the trauma of the last few weeks. I know that it will take hard work, deep patience and close cooperation to continue building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities we serve, both here in Baton Rouge and across the nation. And I know that in the depths of our sorrow, while our hearts are still broken and our emotions are still raw, the just and peaceful society that we want for ourselves and for our children can seem like a distant illusion – especially when the 24-hour news cycle and the constant stream of social media so often places a magnifying glass on the bitter invective and divisive rhetoric.
But that society is no illusion. Rather, it is a work in progress, as it has been a work in progress since founding of our country. That progress has been challenged, but it has not been halted. It continues – around the country and right here in Baton Rouge. I know that progress is underway in peaceful vigils and rallies; in signs that proclaim “We refuse to be divided”; and in the shared desire voiced over and over again by citizens of all backgrounds and beliefs – the desire to be heard, the desire to be understood, the desire to be safe, the desire to live in harmony with one’s neighbors, the desire to partake of the full blessings of American life. That desire unites Americans from coast to coast and if we keep that common goal in mind – if we recognize that the hopes that unite us are far stronger than the fears that divide us – then I am confident that we will continue to build a better, brighter and more just future for every American.