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Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates Delivers Remarks before Justice Forum in Denver


Denver, CO
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Bob [Troyer] for that kind introduction and for your incredible service to the District of Colorado.  And thank you Mayor [Michael] Hancock and Chief [Robert] White for welcoming me to Denver and for the work you do each and every day to keep this community safe.  I want to recognize two of my colleagues who are here with me today: Director Ron Davis of our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services or COPS Office and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.   And finally, a special thank you to all of you for joining us this morning for what I hope can be an honest and productive conversation about an incredibly important topic.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch launched the Justice Forums – a series of convenings with law enforcement and community leaders – in Detroit this August in the aftermath of the officer-involved shootings in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, Minnesota and the tragic shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. 

The tragic events of the past few weeks highlight, more than ever, the urgent need for action that will help to restore trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.  The purpose of these gatherings is for the department to help facilitate an exchange of viewpoints, ideas and experiences, through which you – the community – can identify specific actions we can all take to further unify and protect each other.  We know that these conversations are not themselves the solution – but 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 one another and we need to acknowledge that our views on many of these issues are shaped by personal experiences and our own worldview.

To be clear, the lack of trust 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 far too long.  Many communities of color have consistently felt that the odds are stacked against them and that the criminal justice system treats them unfairly.  And these feelings are a product of some grim realities.  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 any other group of citizens.

At the same time, many police officers feel under attack and criticized for doing what they can to keep us safe.  They feel that many people do not acknowledge that they often have to make split-second decisions in life-threatening situations.  This dangerous cycle of violence has only deepened the rifts in our neighborhoods.  And because of such divides, our public safety suffers.

That is why, it is imperative that we at the Department of Justice work with all of you to do whatever we can to restore trust where it has been broken and to build it where it never existed.  One of the many ways that we are addressing 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 through the fair and impartial policing initiative.  And in June, I announced that we will now train all of our law enforcement agents and prosecutors to recognize and address implicit bias as a part of regular training.

We’re also 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.  And earlier this year the 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, we at the Justice Department know that while we can provide funding, technical assistance and expertise, 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 – and make sure that all sides are listening to one another and are talking openly and honestly.  That’s what our justice forums are all about.

As a career prosecutor, I have devoted my professional life to keeping our communities safe.  Since becoming Deputy Attorney General, I’ve spent a lot of time with people of all backgrounds, from all across our country who are working to do the same.  And what I’ve found is that we are all united by so much more than what divides us.  We all want to stop the use of excessive force.  We all want to ensure that everyone in our country is respected by the law – no matter the color of your skin or the uniform you wear.  And we all want our communities to be safer – defined by less violence, less sorrow and more opportunity.

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.

Updated December 12, 2016