They are calling for changes to local police departments to "prevent more Fergusons."
Six members of the Congressional Black Caucus have joined with representatives from academia, entertainment, civic, religious and labor organizations in a call for a federal czar to monitor local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding.
In a letter sent to President Obama on the day of 18-year-old Michael Brown's funeral, the group cited a pattern of police officers presuming young people of color, particularly African-American boys and men, to be criminals and subjecting them to aggressive tactics that have lately too often led to death.
Lawmakers who signed the letter include Reps. Elijah Cummngs (Maryland), Steven Horsford (Nevada), John Lewis (Georgia), Gwen Moore (Wisconsin), Barbara Lee (California) and Marcia Fudge (Ohio), who chairs the CBC.
The fatal shooting of Brown, who was unarmed, "is only the latest in a long list of black men and boys who have died under eerily similar circumstances. Investigations into the Ferguson shooting are ongoing, and many of the specific facts remain unclear for now," the letter reads. "However, the pattern is too obvious to be a coincidence and too frequent to be a mistake. From policing to adjudication and incarceration, it is time for the country to counter the effects of systemic racial bias, which impairs the perceptions, judgment and behavior of too many of our law enforcement personnel and obstructs the ability of our police departments and criminal justice institutions to protect and serve all communities in a fair and just manner."
A czar, the writers argue, is needed to ensure equitable policing, would be housed in the U.S. Justice Department and tasked with "promoting the professionalism of local law enforcement, monitoring egregious law enforcement activities and adjudicating suspicious actions of local law enforcement agencies."
They also call for a national commission to review existing police policies and practices and identify best practices and policies to "prevent more Fergusons," suspension of programs that provide police forces with military equipment, diversifying police department personnel and offering racial bias training. In addition, they recommend the use of existing DOJ youth grants to support engagement between local police and the young people living in the communities they serve.
"Too often law enforcement personnel hold stereotypes about black and brown youth and vice versa," the letter reads. "Lack of familiarity breeds lack of understanding and increased opportunities for conflict."
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