Washington, DC – House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) delivered remarks today at a press conference with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) regarding the deaths of unarmed African American men at the hands of law enforcement. Congressman Conyers also joined members of the CBC in sending a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch expressing deep concerns.
Below are Congressman Conyers’ remarks as prepared for delivery:
The time is long past for our nation to confront the pathology of its gun culture. In our court rooms, in our streets and on our televisions, we confront a never ending body count. This summer, we staged a sit-in to get a vote on common sense gun legislation. We have yet to get that vote. Make no mistake, our policy decisions have deadly consequences.
Last week brought us news of the tragic killing of 13 year-old Tyre King in Columbus, Ohio. This young man lost his life in fashion strangely similar to that of 12 year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. This week it’s Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s more than 160 African-American men who have lost their lives in police shootings.
For many in our communities, the deaths of these children, young men, and fathers represent a continuing and dangerous cycle of disproportionate use of force against men of color. Video of apparently unarmed men being killed by those sworn to serve and protect has provoked the outrage seen in Charlotte and Milwaukee and inspires protest in other cities across the nation.
When you add to this volatile mix the attacks on police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas, the nation risks being forced into a battle of whose lives matter most. The simple fact is that we must all stand against lawlessness. We must find concrete solutions to stop this pattern. We need to ease racial tension in America by rebuilding our communities in a balanced way where everyone receives equal protection, job opportunities, and a fair shot at the American Dream.
The sad truth about these kinds of incidents is that their root causes are tied together with societal racism that brand black citizens as predators and police practices that treat them as potential perpetrators, breeding distrust between law-enforcement and the communities that they are bound to protect.
Responding to this destructive cycle requires a broad-based approach. As we stand at the doors of the Department of Justice, I must commend Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her team from the Civil Rights Division for being on the job, where we need them. Using its Pattern & Practice enforcement authority under 42 U.S.C. 14141, the Department has investigated and sued police departments to address dangerous and discriminatory practices that result in excessive force or racial profiling.
This statute has been used successfully across the nation – like Ferguson and Baltimore -- to reduce the number of police-involved shootings in targeted cities, and is illustrative of the positive effect of legislative reform efforts.
Last year, in the midst of a record wave of officer-involved killings, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on 21st Century Policing Strategies to begin addressing the issue of law enforcement accountability at the Federal level. Since that time, we have also formed a bipartisan Working Group to develop a plan to get police reform legislation through Congress. That group will meet for the third time this afternoon.
As the death toll continues to climb – now standing at more than 518 by some accounts – we must legislate in accordance with evidence-based practices. The recent tragic shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are a lesson in why it is critical to pass federal legislation. Both fatalities could have been avoided with better training of those officers, particularly in detentions and use of force, as addressed by accreditation standards and best practice provisions currently in negotiation before the Judiciary Committee.
We must continue the discussion on criminal justice reform and develop legitimate plans to make local law enforcement agencies more accountable to their communities. As the repetition of incidents spreads across our cities, it’s clear that there is no easy fix to the problem of deadly force directed against African-American men. Until we develop a concrete plan to address the root causes, we can only wait to see tragic events repeated across other communities.