WASHINGTONNoting that African-American and Hispanic males are arrested at disproportionately high rates, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday that the Justice Department will seek to collect data about stops, searches and arrests as part of a larger effort to analyze and reduce the possible effect of bias within the criminal justice system.
Attorney General Holder said the project grew out of President Obama's call, issued last July following the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, for the Justice Department to seek to reduce tensions between law enforcement and minority communities.
"Racial disparities contribute to tension in our nation generally and within communities of color specifically, and tend to breed resentment towards law enforcement that is counterproductive to the goal of reducing crime," Attorney General Holder said. "Of course, to be successful in reducing both the experience and the perception of bias, we must have verifiable data about the problem. As a key part of this initiative, we will work with grant recipients and local law enforcement to collect data about stops and searches, arrests, and case outcomes in order to help assess the impact of possible bias."
The data collection is one part of the Department's new National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice. It will be funded through $4.75 million in competitively awarded grants. The grant recipients will be named later this year.
The complete text of the Attorney General's video message is below:
"A recent study reported that half of African-American men have been arrested at least once by age 23. Overall, black men were 6 times, and Latino men were 2.5 times, more likely to be imprisoned than white men in 2012.
"This overrepresentation of young men of color in our criminal justice system is a problem we must confrontnot only as an issue of individual responsibility but also as one of fundamental fairness, and as an issue of effective law enforcement. Racial disparities contribute to tension in our nation generally and within communities of color specifically, and tend to breed resentment towards law enforcement that is counterproductive to the goal of reducing crime.
"We know — from research and from experience — that when people are treated fairly by police and other justice system agencies they are more likely to accept decisions by the authorities and obey the law in the future, even when they are penalized by criminal sanctions.
"Last July, following the verdict in the case involving the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, President Obama spoke out about the need to promote better understanding between law enforcement and young men of color. He specifically directed the Justice Department to work closely with state and local law enforcement agencies to develop training and other innovative tools that can help to reduce discord and restore trust.
"We are heeding the President's call. This month, the Justice Department is launching a new initiative — the National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice — to analyze and reduce the effect of racial bias within the criminal justice system. The Center will be funded through an initial competitive grant award totaling $4.75 million and is jointly supported by the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs, the COPS Office, the Civil Rights Division, the Office on Violence Against Women, and the Community Relations Service. This effort will encompass a broad range of areas in which fairness and trust can come into question—from stops and searches to wrongful convictions.
"Of course, to be successful in reducing both the experience and the perception of bias, we must have verifiable data about the problem. As a key part of this initiative, we will work with grant recipients and local law enforcement to collect data about stops and searches, arrests, and case outcomes in order to help assess the impact of possible bias. We will conduct this research while simultaneously implementing strategies in five initial pilot sites with the goal of reducing the role of bias and building confidence in the justice system among young people of color. This work will likely include anti-gang and mentoring projects intended to empower young African-American and Latino males and break the vicious cycle of poverty, incarceration, and crime that destroys too many promising futures each and every day.
"Through partnerships with community organizations and local agencies, the Center will build on the work of the Department's Smart on Crime initiative to help expand opportunity in neighborhoods that are too often characterized by distress and distrust; to reduce bias and discord; and — ultimately — to relegate the era of animosity and suspicion to the past.
"Of course, I realize that progress will not come easily, and the changes we seek will not take hold overnight. But the Justice Department is firmly committed to the goal of opening doors to cooperation and trust that will ultimately lead to safer and healthier communities.
"The Department of Justice is integrally involved in the President's initiative, "My Brother's Keeper," a plan to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and play by the rules has the chance to reach his full potential. By creating more opportunities for young men of color we can send the message that our country is stronger when all Americans are doing well.
"As our nation's Attorney General, and as a father of three, I am personally dedicated to doing everything possible to reduce crime, to strengthen our communities, and to provide the support and assistance that all of our young people need — and that they deserve."
The full video message is available HERE or at www.justice.gov/agwa.php .