Here’s Eric Holder’s 4-Step Plan for Police Reform Post-Ferguson

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Scott Olson/Getty Images

We return once more to this hallowed place to seek shelter from a terrible storm — a storm that I’m certain we will weather, so long as we continue to stand united,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where once Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to the congregation. He spoke on the need to forge ahead, “unafraid to address realities too long ignored.”

The speech addressed the historic struggle for equality, the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the coming steps the Obama administration will take to start reforming law enforcement response and to prevent racial profiling. Before Holder was able to launch into the rest of his speech, he was interrupted by protesters who were then slowly escorted out. Addressing the interruption, Holder said, “Now there will be a tendency on the part of some to condemn what we just saw, but we should not. What we saw there was a genuine expression of concern and involvement.”

He went on to praise the the efforts of protesters, saying that their “level of involvement” is promising, and that he hopes through “perseverance and commitment” it can aid the coming of change. “So let me be clear, let me be clear,” said Holder of the departed crowd. “I ain’t mad at you. Time and again America’s proud history has shown that the most successful and enduring movements for change are those that adhere to principles of nonaggression and nonviolence — they can be noisy at times.” It was this response, not included in the transcript published on The U.S. Department of Justice’s page for Office of Public Affairs, more than any of his well-written but scripted talk, that was perhaps the most effective and endearing set of statements he could offer.

It speaks to the social change sparked by events there that stretches far beyond the case of just Michael Brown, encourages freedom of speech and freedom to protest, and refuses to make the interruption an oppositional action against him, instead making it a necessary step in a common direction. This is perhaps the most useful and accepting of rhetoric he could add to the conversation, including his many quotations of Rev. King Jr.

Continued protests over the shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown have been seen across the country following the grand jury’s decision not to charge Darren Wilson. In order to address concerns highlighted and brought up by events in Ferguson, but long in need of attention, Holder listed four items on the agenda. All four deal with reforming law enforcement or improving its relationship with the public. Far beyond being the sole concern of Ferguson residents and police at this point, these steps will help to correct nationwide and institutionalized problems with U.S. enforcement. First on the agenda is a reconsideration of the military equipment provided to police — something brought up in particular by the militarized response to protests in Ferguson. As many political satirists pointed out, combat equipment used overseas in war-zones has no place in residential streets in the United States.

Second on the list deals with body cameras for use by police officers, with President Barack Obama announcing the government will be contributing $200 million in investment in this equipment. Body cameras are particularly useful in that they protect both civilians and officers alike — perhaps one of the most neutral tools one can provide to combat racial tensions and profiling concerns. This is done in addition to efforts to “facilitate greater engagement between residents and local authorities.” 

Holder also announced that his own department would be changing and strengthening policy in the Justice Department to combat racial profiling within federal law enforcement. The last item he addressed was the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which will bring together civilian leaders and members of the police force in order to discuss current practices and how they can be improved.

Ultimately task forces and policy reviews aren’t necessarily the most proactive steps — the funding for increased police body cameras is perhaps the most tangible improvement in police accountability thus far. But the potential these efforts could have to brush real reform away before its begun is something President Obama discussed in a statement on Monday. “This is not going to be an endless report that we’re going to have collecting dust on the shelf,” he said. “My expectation is concrete recommendations that we can begin to operationalize over the federal, state, and local levels.” Add to this Holder’s comments about the perseverance of pressure from citizens, and conditions that demand change may well help push these recommendations in the right direction.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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