Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Salon notes DOJ's focus on investigating police brutality

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about DOJ's Civil Rights Division and their focus on investigating police brutality. Because this hasn't gotten much media attention, I was glad to see that Justin Elliot has written about it at Salon.

In a marked shift from the Bush administration, President Obama's Justice Department is aggressively investigating several big urban police departments for systematic civil rights abuses such as harassment of racial minorities, false arrests, and excessive use of force.

In interviews, activists and attorneys on the ground in several cities where the DOJ has dispatched civil rights investigators welcomed the shift. To progressives disappointed by Eric Holder's Justice Department on key issues like the failure to investigate Bush-era torture and the prosecution of whistle-blowers, recent actions by the DOJ's Civil Rights Division are a bright spot.

In just the past few months, the Civil Rights Division has announced "pattern and practice" investigations in Newark, New Jersey and Seattle. It's also conducting a preliminary investigation of the Denver Police Department, and all this is on top of a high-profile push to reform the notorious New Orleans Police Department -- as well as criminal prosecutions of several New Orleans officers...

The man who is at least partly responsible for crackdown on police misconduct is Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. In the 1990s, Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants, was a prosecutor in the division working on police misconduct cases; he later served as special counsel to Ted Kennedy on civil rights issues...

The DOJ's investigations of troubled large departments "sends a message to the whole field," says Sam Walker, an emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska who studies police accountability.

"The primary victims of police misconduct are African-Americans and Latinos. The Bush administration simply wasn't interested in this," Walker says. "The Obama-Holder DOJ puts a very high priority on this."

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