The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) released a letter today asking U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to make a final decision about outstanding requests from LDF and community leaders for a federal civil rights investigation of the North Charleston, South Carolina Police Department and an expansion of its probe of the Baltimore City Police Department. In addition, LDF is requesting that the DOJ launch or complete criminal civil rights investigations of New York City police officers involved in the killings of three unarmed Black men: Mohamed Bah, Eric Garner, and Ramarley Graham.
In its letter, LDF emphasizes the urgency of these outstanding requests in communities where public confidence in local police has been deeply damaged by incidents of police violence against unarmed African Americans.
“For decades, the DOJ has investigated individual police officers and entire police departments engaged in unlawful conduct that has harmed civilians,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF President and Director-Counsel. “During the past 18 months, as police violence against unarmed African Americans has become a national issue, the public’s call for the intervention of the DOJ to investigate civil rights violations by local law enforcement has intensified.”
In the waning months of the Administration of President Barack Obama, Ifill predicts that pressure on the DOJ by the public to conduct civil rights investigations of police departments is likely to grow even stronger. Ifill added: “The intervention of the DOJ in Ferguson, and the current investigations in Baltimore and Chicago, demonstrate the Administration’s commitment to the issue of policing reform.”
But, while LDF has lauded the decision to conduct investigations in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago, in today’s letter, Ifill urges the DOJ to “respond expeditiously” to requests for a civil rights investigation of the North Charleston Police Department (NCPD). Last April, former NCPD Officer Michael Slager shot and killed an unarmed African-American man, Walter Scott. The video of Officer Slager shooting Mr. Scott in the back was seen around the world and has provided powerful visual evidence of the necessity for policing reform. Citing numerous other examples of police violence against unarmed African Americans in North Charleston, LDF, along with over two dozen local, South Carolina community groups, made a formal request for a DOJ civil rights investigation of the NCPD last year. The DOJ has yet to make a final decision in this matter.
In today’s letter, LDF also notes that the DOJ has not yet provided a written response to LDF’s demand that the DOJ expand its investigation of the Baltimore Police Department to include the Baltimore School Police Force (BSPF). There is evidence that the BSPF has used force against students, and the State’s Attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, has also prosecuted one school police officer. While DOJ staff recently expressed a verbal commitment to investigate the relationship between the Baltimore City Police and the BSPF, LDF has not yet received written DOJ confirmation of this commitment.
LDF notes that the DOJ is conducting—or has been requested to conduct—several criminal civil rights investigations in New York City. These investigations involve, or should involve, killings of Bah (Sept. 25, 2012), Garner (July 17, 2014), and Graham (Feb. 2, 2012) by New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers. After a failure to indict the NYPD officers involved in the killings of Garner and Graham, the DOJ opened two investigations, but has yet to report the findings of either one. After a failure to indict the NYPD officer who killed Bah, and the revelation of potential factual inconsistencies in police accounts of Bah’s killing, LDF requests the DOJ open an investigation into this killing, too.
“Typically, communities of color have turned to the federal government to reform policing practices when attempts to do so at the local level have failed,” said Monique Dixon, LDF Deputy Policy Director and Senior Counsel. “LDF will continue to assist community leaders in North Charleston and Baltimore to conduct their own investigations of racially-biased policing practices. However, the DOJ’s independent probes in these two cities are essential to help ensure the safety and dignity of communities of color and protect school children. In support of the suffering families of Bah, Garner, and Graham, LDF also urges the DOJ to report on—or launch—investigations of the officers involved in these fatal shootings without further delay.”