Attorney General Eric Holder said the current hostility between the Black community and the nation’s police force means that the nation has “failed”—failed to fix a problem that has existed in this country for a long time.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid that was printed in New York magazine, Holder was reminded by Reid of a statement he made in connection with the Amadou Diallo police abuse case in 2001 while he was a deputy attorney general, stating at the time that there was a sense of mistrust between Black communities and police that needed to be bridged.
What does it mean that the country is in the same place now? Reid asked him.
“It means that we, as a nation, have failed. It’s as simple as that,” Holder responded. “We have failed. We have understood that these issues have existed long before even that 2001 memorandum by that then-young deputy attorney general. These are issues that we’ve been dealing with for generations. And it’s why we have to seize this opportunity that we now have. We have a moment in time that we can, perhaps, come up with some meaningful change. It’s what I’m committed to doing, even in the limited time I have left as attorney general. And I’ll certainly continue to do it after I leave office.”
“I think, in particular, what happened in New York with the whole Garner matter — which I can’t really get into, because it’s something that we are still in the process of investigating — has galvanized the nation” he said. “And I think that we have to take advantage of this spirit, this feeling that exists now in our country, and make it better.”
Holder quickly became a target of conservatives when he said shortly after taking office that the U.S. was “a nation of cowards” in dealing with issues of race. Does he still believe that?
“Well, as a nation, we are too reluctant to talk about racial things. It’s something that’s painful,” he said. “It’s difficult, given the history of this nation. And the easier thing to do is to try to figure out a way in which you just kind of deal with the issue that’s before you and then really not deal with the underlying concerns. So yeah, we’ve not done all that we can. I’m hopeful that, at this time, with this president, that we can make progress in ways that we have not in the past.”
As for the relationship between the police and young African-Americans and Latinos, Holder said young people shouldn’t fear the police—but he knows there’s a great deal of distrust on both sides.
“There’s misunderstanding that exists on both sides. And we have to come up with ways in which we bridge those gaps, so that people don’t demonize other people; so that people understand, on both sides, that there are people trying to just do the best that they can,” he said. “We’re not at a stage yet where I can honestly say that if you’re a person of color, you should not be concerned about any interaction that you have with the police — in the same way that I can’t say to a police officer, ‘You shouldn’t worry about what community you are being asked to operate in.'”