Attorney General William Barr said Sunday that he doesn’t believe systemic racism exists in US police agencies.
“I think there’s racism in the United States still but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist,” Barr said in a CBS interview.
Barr should read is own department’s investigations of police departments.
There have been 69 investigations by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division for alleged “pattern or practice” of use of excessive force or constitutional rights violations among the 18,000 police departments in the US.
Of those, 40 departments have been found wanting and agreed to court-approved reform settlements or consent decrees to make systemic reforms.
Let’s look at just two of the DOJ’s own investigative findings:
Baltimore Police: A 2016 report found 300,000 pedestrian stops were recorded from January 2010 to May 2015. That’s 60,000 a year with most concentrated in two predominantly African-American neighborhoods that held just 11% of the city’s population. They were people walking down the street who were detained, questioned and checked for outstanding warrants, often without any reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. As a consequence, hundreds of African-Americans were stopped over and over – at least 10 separate times each – in those five years.
During stops, Baltimore officers frequently patted-down or frisked people as a matter of course, without identifying any grounds to believe the person was armed and dangerous. In some cases, officers performed degrading strip searches in public.
The Baltimore Dept also engaged in “a pattern or practice of excessive force,” according the report’s review of 800 non-deadly force cases. DOJ found recurring cases of overly aggressive tactics that escalated tension, use of excessive force against people with mental health disabilities and unreasonable force against juveniles.
Management routinely failed in its oversight duties. Of 2,818 force incidents Baltimore recorded in nearly six years, it investigated only 10 and found only one use of force to be excessive.
Baltimore entered into a court-monitored consent decree in 2017 after the death of Freddie Gray, who died from injuries sustained in police custody. The police have agreed to a set of reforms.
Ville Platte, Louisiana Police and Evangeline Parish Sheriff: A 2016 DOJ investigation found both agencies arrested people and held them in jail without a warrant and without probable cause a crime was committed. These detentions led to “coerced confessions and improper criminal convictions,” DOJ found. Both departments called these arrests “investigative holds” and used them regularly to induce people to provide information under threat on continued wrongful jailing.
Those arrested were not just those suspected of a crime without sufficient evidence but also their family members and potential witnesses, the report found. People would be strip-searched, placed in holding cells without beds, toilets, or showers, and commonly detained 72 hours or more in what amounted to “secret and indefinite confinement,” the report says.
The illegal arrests went on for years and in “staggering” numbers, the DOJ wrote. In Ville Platte, from 2012 to 2014, there were 700 of these illegal “investigative” arrests.
Evangeline Parish, 80 miles west of Baton Rouge, is nearly 30% black, and Ville Platte, the county seat, is 64% black.
In June 2018, both agencies reached agreement with DOJ to reform their policies.
Pattern or Practice of Constitutional Violations
Those are findings from just two of the 40 investigative reports since Congress gave the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division authority to investigate local police departments in 1994. The law passed after the 1991 video of the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police sparked national public outrage.
The 1992 acquittal of the officers on state criminal charges triggered riots in Los Angeles and national protests.
The first “pattern or practice” case brought was in Pittsburgh, Penn. in 1997 after a year-long investigation. The police department negotiated a court-approved reform agreement and the police were subject to court monitoring until 2005.
The Clinton and Obama administrations focused on bringing about local policing reform through these investigations. The Bush administration showed a decided disinterest in civil rights enforcement activity and reduced it. The Trump administration was openly hostile to it from the outset with both Trump and his former AG Jeff Sessions criticizing the DOJ program and finding fault with the criticism of police abuse in Ferguson, MO shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014. (see 2017 report)
Since the first case brought by the DOJ in 1997, departments have reached settlements, consent decrees or letter memos of understanding for reform following investigations. The majority of departments had race reform issues, although some have gender discrimination issues related to discriminatory domestic abuse responses.
Departments with reform agreements include: Pittsburgh, PA; Steubenville, OH; Newark, NJ; Los Angeles, CA; Highland Park, IL; Washington, DC; Cincinnati, OH; Buffalo, NY; Columbus, OH; Mount Prospect, IL; Detroit, MI; Villa Rica, PR; Upper Marlboro, MD; Missoula, MT; Meridian, MS; Ferguson, MO; Baltimore, MD; New Orleans, LA; Orlando, FL; Miami, FL; East Haven, Conn; Los Angeles County, Albuquerque, NM; Phoenix, AZ; Seattle, WA; Charlotte Amalie, VI; San Juan, PI; Easton, PA; Warren, OH; Yonkers, NY; Yaphank, NY; Beacon, NY; Ville Platte, LA: Evangeline Parish, LA.