Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, John [Horn]. It’s wonderful to be back home in Georgia, surrounded by so many people I consider close friends. In particular, I’d like to thank Mayor [Kasim] Reed, Police Chief [George] Turner and Ambassador [Andrew] Young for your participation today and for your lifetime of work on behalf of our city. And a special thank you to the National Center for Civil & Human Rights for hosting this event.
Let me also recognize my Department of Justice colleagues here today: Paul Monteiro of the Department’s Community Relations Service and Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. They have each played a crucial role in building bridges between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
And finally, thanks to all of you for joining us this morning. This is hardly the first time the people in this room have discussed police-community relations and it certainly won’t be the last. It remains a tremendously important and emotionally challenging issue and I appreciate your willingness to engage on a topic so important to the health and wellbeing of this city.
This August, Attorney General Lynch launched the Justice Forums, which provide an opportunity for law enforcement and community leaders in a city to meet and discuss issues that affect us all. But these forums are about more than dialogue – they are designed to deepen relationships across our community and build consensus around common-sense solutions. That’s what we hope to accomplish here today.
Last Thursday, I traveled to Denver, Colorado, where I participated in a Justice Forum there. Much like today’s event, we assembled representatives from federal, state and local law enforcement, faith-based organizations, community groups and non-profits to share experiences, discuss concerns, and propose solutions. Part of the reason the event was successful was the candor of everyone involved – folks were willing to roll up their sleeves and engage in the difficult conversations we too often avoid. By speaking openly and honestly, we sought to foster trust and understanding and, in doing so, build consensus around shared goals.
It’s particularly meaningful for me to participate in a Justice Forum here in Atlanta. This is a city I know and love – a city where I grew up, where I built my professional career, and where my husband and I raised our family. Atlanta is home for me. It is also, of course, a city with a complicated history. Atlanta has experienced its share of setbacks and struggles, but it has also been home to moments of great progress. In the years after the Civil War, even as the city remained fiercely segregated, Atlanta became a center of higher education for African Americans. During the Jim Crow era, even as the city suffered through the firebombing of African American churches and Jewish synagogues, we also saw some of the earliest stirrings of the Civil Rights era, providing a home for Dr. King, as he built his congregation and the movement. It is fitting that Atlanta’s seal depicts a phoenix rising from the ashes. This is a city always moving forward.
And we hope to continue that forward momentum today. We hope that this morning’s discussion can be part of a larger conversation about the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. And while these conversations are not themselves the solution, they are a critical step in the process. We need to listen to one another – but perhaps more importantly, we need to really hear one another. We need to be able to empathize with others whose personal experiences are different than our own.
To be clear, a level of mistrust between the American people and our law enforcement is not new. It’s an issue that we’ve been dealing with as a nation for a long time. Unfortunately, these feelings are a product of some grim realities, both past and present. We know that people of color are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police and are more likely to have their lives cut short in police incidents than other groups of citizens.
At the same time, we must recognize that police officers have a difficult and sometimes impossible, job. The majority of officers are trying hard to keep our communities safe. Over the past two decades, I’ve worked with hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement officers – many of them here in Atlanta. I know – because I’ve experienced it firsthand – that there are many good police officers who perform their demanding and dangerous jobs with integrity.
But clearly there are some serious problems. Recent events have shined a spotlight on some of the issues between law enforcement and many of the communities that they are sworn to protect and serve.
One of the many ways that we are trying to address these issues is through our commitment to implicit bias training. Since 2010, the Justice Department has worked with state and local law enforcement to train over 2,600 law enforcement officers across the country. And in June, I announced that we will now train all of the Department of Justice’s law enforcement agents and prosecutors to recognize and address implicit bias as a part of regular training.
In addition, we’re providing funds and technical assistance to cities around the nation committed to building bridges between the community and its police force through our Office of Justice Programs. Earlier this year, the Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS Office) launched the Advancing 21st Century Policing Initiative to support 15 municipalities who agreed to implement recommendations of the President’s 21st Century Policing Task Force. In addition, we are working with police department leaders and city officials in Baltimore, Ferguson, as well as other cities to restore the public’s faith in its law enforcement after our Civil Rights Division investigations that found that these cities engaged in unlawful and unconstitutional conduct.
Now, while the federal government is available to provide funding, technical assistance and expertise, we know there is no substitute for the kind of firsthand knowledge that you – our law enforcement, community leaders, civil rights advocates and faith groups – can offer. It is people like you – the people who live in the community and serve the community – who will truly make the difference.
That is why these conversations are at the heart of all this work. We want to forge constructive and meaningful dialogue between citizens and the police officers who are sworn to protect them. That’s what our Justice Forums are all about. I want to thank you for your commitment to this critical work – and for all you are doing to build the brighter future we seek. I’m really looking forward to our discussion.