WASHINGTON - Today, during a full House Judiciary Committee hearing on “Policing Strategies for the 21stCentury,” Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) delivered the following opening statement:
“Law enforcement accountability is an issue that is very topical given current events, but also one that has long been a concern of mine and many other Members.
“As a Member of Congress, I have stood on the streets of Detroit with a bullhorn and appealed for calm while my city burned around me in 1967. On too many occasions, I have met with the grieving relatives of those who have lost their lives at the hands of the police.
“I have also met with the families of police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. Some of these officers were killed by violent criminals, while other officers were inadvertently killed by their colleagues who could only see the color of their skin.
“I have co-chaired town hall meetings with my colleagues across the Nation in response to policing incidents in Chicago, Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. At these meetings, we tried to help the residents of these cities make sense of how to respond to their collective sense of loss and to understand the role of the federal government in protecting their civil rights.
“I have proposed numerous bills to both help protect the safety of police officers and to provide a system of accountability for law enforcement.
“For example, I worked with Attorney General John Ashcroft, at the invitation of President Bush, to craft federal legislation intended to end use of racial profiling in police practices, which is currently pending as H.R. 1933. And, next month, I plan to introduce comprehensive legislation dealing with accreditation, data collection and policing practices.
“Fortunately, our Committee has generally approached the issue of policing with a strong bipartisanship spirit. We have enjoyed success in passing reform legislation, notably the passage of the Pattern and Practice enforcement statute in 1994, which was codified as section 14141 of title 42 of the United States Code. And, we twice passed the Traffic Stops Statistics Study Act under the leadership of Chairman Henry Hyde.
“By scheduling today’s hearing, Chairman Goodlatte continues this legacy and should be commended for his willingness to face a difficult issue that has divided communities around the United States.
“Any discussion of law enforcement accountability must be premised on recognition of the dangerous and difficult job that all police officers perform.
“The vast majority of police officers perform their jobs professionally and without bias.
“But like any profession, there are those who make it difficult for the rest to serve their communities.
“At the outset, I must agree with Professor Orlando Patterson when he says that the complex and confounding questions raised by Ferguson, Baltimore and other cities go well beyond the issues of racism and violent police behavior.
“What occurred in those cities clearly resulted from a vicious tangle of concentrated poverty and culturally disenfranchised youth as well as a countervailing culture of law enforcement disconnected from their communities that is lacking appropriate standards and oversight.
“Yesterday, President Obama was in Camden, New Jersey to highlight his Administration’s initiatives to address the challenges of policing in our inner cities.
“While I support the President’s efforts and look forward to working with him to implement his programs, there is no substitute for concrete performance standards for state and local law enforcement agencies that receive billions of dollars every year in federal funding.
“For reform-focused police executives, many of the current administrative programs are icing on the cake and probably will not reach chronically underperforming or troubled departments.
“The entire purpose of Section 14141 was to add teeth to federal enforcement that was absent in the grant-making process. Although, pattern and practice enforcement has been effective in the cases of individual departments, it is far too resource-heavy to reach across more than 17,000 police departments.
“There must be another way and I hope that today we can talk about the combination of federal, state and local measures that are essential to support necessary changes in policing culture.
“The national outcry that arose after Michael Brown’s death is nothing new to those who are students of policing practices.
“From the Sean Bell, Abner Louima, and Amadou Diallo incidents in New York to the Eddie Macklin shooting in Miami to the Timothy Thomas Over-the-Rhine shooting in Cincinnati and the Donovan Jackson beating in Inglewood, the response is always the same: national outcry followed by well-intentioned programs that never quite get to the heart of the matter.
“Out of respect for all who have lost their lives over the last nine months – both law enforcement and civilian – I hope we can dedicate ourselves to engaging the difficult issues to make lasting change in our communities.”House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. Opening Statement
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