Good morning – and thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I want to express my gratitude to Executive Director [Dwayne] Crawford and President [Gregory] Thomas for their outstanding leadership of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. It’s a pleasure to be among so many extraordinary partners, exceptional colleagues and good friends. And it’s a privilege to stand with such an inspiring group of public servants devoted to promoting public safety, protecting national security, and defending the rights of every person who calls America home.
The last few weeks have presented a series of painful reminders of how difficult and important that work still is. Just yesterday morning, three officers were killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana – and as we gather here today, American flags are again flying at half-staff across the country. Families are again mourning loved ones robbed from them by senseless violence. Police officers are again grieving for their friends. And all of us are again heartbroken at the news of yet another tragedy; shocked by such callous disregard for human life; and dismayed at yet another instance of violence tearing at the fabric of our nation.
I condemn these heinous attacks in the strongest terms possible. Agents from the FBI, ATF and U.S. Marshals are on the scene in Baton Rouge. The Department of Justice intends to make available victim services and federal funding support. We will also continue to offer any assistance to our local partners as they investigate this most recent tragedy. As the president said yesterday, there is no justification whatsoever for violence against law enforcement. And our hearts and prayers go out to the brave individuals we lost, and the friends and family members who loved and needed them – and who will need us, all of us, now more than ever.
I know that we in this room feel a unique perspective and a particular pain born of the broader experiences we bring to bear and the broader world in which we live. After the murders of five officers in Dallas two weeks ago, one dedicated black officer, Officer Montrell Jackson of Louisiana, gave voice to the dichotomy often imposed upon us when he wrote, “In uniform I get nasty, hateful looks – and out of uniform, some consider me a threat.” And yet even still, he urged all Americans – of every background and circumstance, every color and creed – “Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”
Officer Montrell Jackson was among the fallen in Baton Rouge yesterday. We are devastated by his passing, and that of his comrades. But if we are truly to honor his service and mourn his loss – and the loss of his friends and colleagues, and of too many others who have been taken from us – we must not let hatred infect our hearts. We must remember that no matter who we are, we all feel the same pain when we lose a friend or loved one. We all share the same hopes for our children’s future, and the same anxiety for their safety. We all share not only this country, but this brief moment of life together. And the complex and challenging issues these tragedies have brought to the fore can only be met if we can find ways to work together. As we approach this challenge, NOBLE’s voice is needed now more than ever to speak to the loss of humanity when any of us are judged at a glance – whether by the color of our skin or the color of our uniform. NOBLE has been at the forefront of these issues since its inception. From the time of Lloyd Sealy to the present day, you have always carried the banner of community policing that is now coming to the forefront of law enforcement thought. We need you to raise it even higher in these challenging times.
At the Department of Justice, we are standing with you. We are determined to do everything we can to bridge divides, to heal rifts, to restore trust, and to ensure that every American feels respected, supported, and safe. We are advancing the recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing – a blueprint for promoting effective crime reduction while building public trust. We are offering our state and local partners funding, training, and technical assistance for critical programs and assets like body-worn cameras, de-escalation training, and education in implicit bias. Our Civil Rights Division is playing a critical role in ensuring constitutional policing and accountability, and rebuilding trust where it has eroded. Through our Office of Justice Programs and our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, we will continue to give local departments the tools they need and the training they require to come home safely – from funds for bulletproof vests to training in officer health, safety, and wellness. And we are supporting local jurisdictions as they implement innovative and collaborative initiatives that seek to make officers and residents allies – not adversaries – in the work of public safety.
The actions we have taken are vitally important – and but there is no doubt that we have more work to do. We must continue working to foster trust between communities and law enforcement. We must continue working to guarantee equal justice under the law. And we must continue to build the more safe, more united, more perfect Union that remains our common goal. I could not be more proud to be here today – to advance that mission, to support that cause, and to stand with you as we work to realize its promise together. And I could not be more honored to introduce a man who has made that pursuit of justice his life’s work.
Attorney General Eric Holder came to the Department of Justice as a 25-year-old law school graduate focused on ensuring that public officials met their responsibilities to the American people. And over the course of his extraordinary career – as a U.S. Attorney, as a judge, as Deputy Attorney General, and as Attorney General of the United States – he advanced the fundamental beliefs that animated him from the beginning; that animate this NOBLE gathering; and that animate law enforcement at its best: every individual deserves equality. Every individual deserves respect. And every individual deserves to enjoy the full blessings of American life.
Throughout his tenure as Attorney General, Eric Holder demonstrated his commitment to the rights of all Americans not only with words, but with action. He helped to advance the dignity and equality of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters and their families. He defended our most fundamental rights, including the right to vote – a right that is being increasingly attacked, particularly for communities of color. He worked to resolve generations-old disputes through groundbreaking efforts in Indian Country. He acted decisively to reform America’s criminal justice system through the Smart on Crime Initiative – a transformative reorientation of the way that this country approaches law enforcement. And he began the hard work of rebuilding trust in law enforcement in communities where it has eroded.
Now, these actions were not always easy to take. He often faced determined opposition and sometimes outright hostility. But he recognized that as public servants, it is our responsibility to approach difficult issues with the fierce urgency that they deserve. He understood, as you do, that staying in place and doing nothing will only erode the progress that so many have fought to achieve. That’s a lesson I remember every day when I walk into the office of the Attorney General at the Department of Justice: that we must not burden future generations with the results of our lost time, our inaction, or our missed opportunities. We must build a foundation of progress that gives them the chance to scale heights we never thought we could reach. And we must strive, every day, to lend our best efforts to the work that remains at hand.
That is the idea that defines this extraordinary gathering. It is the lesson that marked Attorney General Holder’s tenure. And it is the principle that must guide us today: to seek “Justice by Action: Then, Now, and Tomorrow.”
My friends, the word “honorable” is just a title until it is inhabited by someone who lives it every day – someone whose moral compass has remained steadfast and true from his first job until the current moment. Someone who endures challenge and difficulty in the service of his mission, in order to shield those who work to advance the goals of justice and equality. Someone like our award recipient. You could not have graced this award with a better or more inspirational name. It is now my great pleasure to introduce my predecessor, my colleague, and my friend, the 82nd Attorney General of the United States: the Honorable Eric H. Holder.