Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined two dozen colleagues in a follow up letter to Attorney General Barr reiterating a previous request that the Department of Justice open an investigation into patterns and practices of racially discriminatory and violent policing practices in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). The senators asked for an explanation from Attorney General Barr on why he did not respond to their letter and to explain his statements on June 7th in an appearance on Face the Nation during which he said, “I don’t think necessarily starting a pattern or practice investigation at this stage is warranted.”
“No stone will be left unturned as we rethink and reform our nation’s policing practices. Attorney General Barr must answer to the American people, and work with state and local officials to investigate any unconstitutional patterns and practices of violent or discriminatory policing that targets communities of color in the Minneapolis Police Department. It’s way past time we improve transparency in policing,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We have a moral obligation to put an end to these tragedies across the country because George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others should still be alive today.”
Senator Gillibrand has been pushing for Senators Booker (D-NJ) and Harris’ (D-CA) Justice in Policing Act of 2020 and has introduced the Senate companion to Representative Hakeem Jeffries’ (D-NY) legislation that was introduced following the death of Eric Garner in 2014, the Eric Garner Excessive Force Prevention Act.
Recent deaths of unarmed black Americans at the hands of police — including Breonna Taylor, who was murdered by an officer in Louisville, KY on an incorrect no-knock warrant, George Floyd, and countless others — have sparked nationwide and global protests against police brutality and institutional racism. According to the Washington Post’s Deadly Force Database, police have shot and killed more than 1,000 people in the United States over the past year. While black Americans account for less than 13% of the U.S. population, reports show they are killed by police more than twice as often as white Americans. The overwhelming majority of police officers involved in civilian deaths have not been charged or convicted of a crime.
Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below.
Dear Attorney General Barr:
We write to follow up on our May 29 request that the Department of Justice work with state and local officials to investigate the death of George Floyd and immediately open an investigation to evaluate unconstitutional patterns and practices of violent policing targeting communities of color in the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). While we have not yet received a response to our letter, you appeared on Face the Nation on June 7 and stated that you “don’t think necessarily starting a pattern or practice investigation at this stage is warranted.” We write to ask for an explanation for this statement, as well as why you have not responded to our letter.
The Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice has the authority to investigate patterns and practices of racially discriminatory and violent policing at law enforcement departments. The authority is an essential tool for ensuring lawful and fair police practices. Under President Obama, the Justice Department opened 25 pattern and practice investigations across the country, and used court-supervised consent decrees to ensure oversight, enforcement, and accountability. This Administration has only opened one pattern and practice investigation into a single unit of the Springfield Police Department in Massachusetts.
We have all seen the horrifying and gut-wrenching video of George Floyd pinned to the ground by a police officer who held his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for his life. None of the officers on the scene responded when Mr. Floyd repeatedly cried out that he could not breathe. All four officers have now been charged by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating whether federal charges are appropriate.
But justice in this case requires a full scale pattern and practice review of the MPD, and as we stated in our letter, it is critical that the Department of Justice begin this review immediately.
Appearing on a Sunday show is not an acceptable response to our letter. It is imperative that you formally inform us of your decision whether to open a pattern and practice investigation at the MPD. If you believe, as you implied on the show, that such an investigation is not warranted, we ask that you provide a full explanation why, given these outrageous facts, you would refuse to initiate the investigation.