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For Eric Holder, While He's on the Front Lines in Ferguson

Attorney General Eric Holder
Attorney General Eric Holder
Jennifer Bellamy,
Senior Legislative Counsel
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August 20, 2014

Long after the news cameras leave town, Attorney General Eric Holder wants the people in Ferguson to know he stands with them. He’s in Missouri today, visiting the front lines.

In the days since Michael Brown was shot, the scene in Ferguson has been bleak. Protesters have been corralled into padlocked protest zones, bombarded with tear gas, and patrolled by police armed with weapons designed for combat. As has always been the case with overly aggressive policing in this country, communities of color have been hardest hit.

Protestors on the ground are demanding change. Their calls are being echoed across the country.

That’s why it’s so important that Eric Holder is in Ferguson today.

As attorney general, Eric Holder is uniquely positioned to help ensure that we do not have another Ferguson. We are encouraged to see that Holder has sent 40 FBI agents to conduct an independent investigation into Michael Brown’s shooting. But we cannot just investigate what went wrong; We need to make the sweeping policy changes that will prevent future tragedies.

For many, mourning Michael Brown’s death is unacceptably familiar. We have a long history of racially biased policing in this country, and too many instances of excessive force used against unarmed black men. Racial profiling and bias got us here. Addressing pervasive racial bias in our criminal justice system is the way to move forward.

To that end, when Holder returns to Washington, his first move should be to update the Department of Justice’s guidance on the use of race by law enforcement officials, to include a comprehensive ban on profiling by federal law enforcement which would apply to state and local law enforcement who work in partnership with the federal government or receive federal funding. To protect and serve is not a suggestion. It is a mandate that law enforcement must apply equally to all communities. To that end, Holder should also lead the Justice Department to take steps such as requiring racial bias training and guidance for forces that receive federal grants.

The militarized response to protestors in Ferguson gives us a stark view into how our state and local law enforcement agencies have amassed wartime arsenals, and as our recent report makes clear, this militarized policing has disproportionately targeted communities of color. Holder, at least in part, holds the purse strings, as the Justice Department is one of several federal agencies funneling billions of dollars to state and local police departments to help them purchase military weapons and equipment. Our communities are not warzones, and Holder should also act quickly to mandate that his department apply stricter rules – or at least some oversight – to local police forces that are given military equipment for free.

For far too long, we have had two criminal justice systems in this country: one that serves and protects white communities, and one that criminalizes and controls black and brown communities. Eric Holder can provide the moral leadership we need to end the siege on communities of color. He’s in Ferguson today because he is ready to address these systemic problems. Let’s make sure he follows through.

Take Action! Call on the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to stop funding the siege on communities of color.

For more, please click here to read a letter to the Department of Justice outlining the ACLU’s and other civil rights groups’ recommended reforms to eliminate police abuse.

For the ACLU’s complete response to Ferguson, click here.

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