By Anna Okada
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, dozens of law enforcement leaders across the U.S. formally challenged the processes and membership of the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, citing its lack of transparent processes and balanced representation.
The group of law enforcement leaders filed an “amicus curiae brief,” an informative supplement, in support of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s (LDF) lawsuit against the Commission. The brief argues that the Commission lacks the variety of perspectives necessary to make informed decisions regarding policing and the criminal justice system. The brief also states that the Commission fails to meet the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The brief is signed by more than 75 leaders including district attorneys, attorneys general, police chiefs and sheriffs, as well as the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr put together the Commission to examine policing in January 2020. The group is composed entirely of law enforcement officials, with no members from impacted communities, civil rights organizations, or police reform groups. Furthermore, the Commission held hearings but did so without formally announcing them, and the public was not allowed to attend or participate.
The Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice was first created by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 and led to increased police training. More recently, President Obama created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing in response to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in 2014. Unlike the current Commission, however, both Johnson and Obama’s groups included civilian members.
The LDF is now seeking a permanent halt to the Commission’s activities in NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund v. Barr. The LDF argues that the Commission violated a law that stipulates how federal advisory commissions must function. Barr has expressed he does not think that law applies to policing groups.
Sherrilyn Ifill, the President of the LDF, stated that it seems the Commission “was created to perpetuate the false notion that law enforcement is under attack, which Attorney General Barr and President Trump have frequently espoused as a justification for undermining measures to promote police accountability.” The LDF maintains that the Commission will protect law enforcement officials rather than the communities the officials serve.
The brief filed by law enforcement leaders highlights such concerns. With recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks, the brief brings urgency to the matter of police accountability. Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, asserted that the Commission “… will simply deepen distrust at a fragile moment when our nation is in crisis.”
Calls for police reform have intensified in the wake of George Floyd’s death. House Democrats proposed the “Justice in Policing Act” that would ban chokeholds and “no-knock” warrants. Additional reforms have been introduced in Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” initiative that includes a mandated warning before shooting. There are also increasing demands to defund, rather than reform, police departments. For many, defunding police means investing instead in violence prevention programs, public housing, and health care.
The pressure for change in the policies that dictate law enforcement is clear. The brief filed by law enforcement leaders indicates that such calls do not exclude members of the field. The ongoing Black Lives Matter movement has captured global attention, and the outcome of the lawsuit is likely to have extensive implications.
The lawsuit will be heard in federal court in Washington by Senior U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, who was nominated by President George W. Bush.
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