The Congressional Black Caucus is demanding the Justice Department step up their investigations, indictments and prosecutions of police officers who shoot unarmed black people as the latest incident in North Carolina flames racial tensions anew.
Calling for “aggressive action,” members of the CBC delivered a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch Thursday demanding Justice “put an end to what appears to be the targeting and profiling of black people that result in their deaths.”
“We will not continue to ask our constituents to be patient without any hope for change,” they wrote in their letter, which Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) read to reporters outside Justice Thursday afternoon. “These killings cannot continue to go unaddressed or ignored by our government.”
The CBC’s appeal to the department comes the same week as protests have erupted over the fatal police shooting of a North Carolina man, and the local police department’s refusal to release the video of the encounter that led to his death.
Overnight, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) declared a state of emergency, calling in the National Guard to quell protests – a move that CBC member Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) said “we regret – I don’t think it should have gotten this far.”
The CBC decided Wednesday to take their case to the Justice Department, members said, to speed up the government’s response to such shootings while lawmakers continue to agitate for legislation to address police shootings.
CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said Thursday that members want to see the DOJ “intervene to guarantee a solution” toward “the elimination of unlawful police shootings.”
Butterfield said the CBC wants Justice to implement a “national standard regarding the use of lethal force” that includes mandatory body cameras and better training for police officers, a policy of identifying and removing officers “with a propensity to overreact,” and a commitment at the federal level to “aggressively pursue investigations, indictments, and yes, prosecutions against any and all law enforcement officers who harm or kill innocent African American citizens.”
The federal government “must step in” to hold officers who kill civilians accountable, CBC member Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) insisted, because “local police departments are unable to do it, local prosecutors are unable to do it.”
Longer term, CBC members said, they want to see the federal ensure that states and municipalities across the country implement “true community policing” programs that end racial profiling. They called for votes on a number of measures, including training police officers and implementingcriminal justice reform.
“A lot of what we need has already been drafted, mostly by members of the caucus,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said.
But in the meantime, Justice can do to ameliorate the problem, and convince a the public the issue is being taken seriously, lawmakers said.
“The community says to us, ‘What if the law’s not obeying the law?’” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said Thursday. “Will the criminal justice system, from top to bottom, will they help us make law enforcement obey the law?”
The CBC’s comments come as the presidential candidates are also facing off on how to respond to police shootings and violence more generally. Hillary Clinton has called for a national standard regarding the use of force by police. Donald Trump, however, has called for the adoption of a national stop-and-frisk policy instead. The political arm of the CBC has endorsed Clinton.
CBC members rejected Trump’s proposal outright Thursday.
“This is supposed to be his alleged roll-out to get closer and more African American votes?” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) said, asserting that as a New Yorker, Trump knows how “divisive” a policy stop-and-frisk is.
“What Donald Trump is really doing, and he’s done it throughout, he’s trying to present a stereotype of African Americans that fits the description of some of the individuals who support him, who are deplorable, so that they can turn out in this vote,” Meeks continued.
CBC members also dismissed the idea that Trump could even resurrect stop-and-frisk if he became president.
“The federal courts have ruled it unconstitutional to stop and frisk Americans,” Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said. “So we would ask Donald trump to bone up on his knowledge of what is constitutional and what is unconstitituional.”