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Black Lawmakers Call Out DOJ’s Dismal Track Record on Prosecuting Police Shootings

Congressional Black Caucus members gather on the steps of the U.S. Department of Justice to call for more action in the aftermath of violent protests over the shooting death of a black man by police in Charlotte, North Carolina. Image courtesy of the Washington Post.

Congressional Black Caucus members gather on the steps of the U.S. Department of Justice.  The group has called for more action in the aftermath of violent protests over the shooting death of a Black man by police in Charlotte, North Carolina. Image courtesy of the Washington Post.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are calling on the Justice Department to step up its efforts in investigating and indicting police officers who shoot unarmed Black people. Their plea comes amid national outrage over the recent police shootings of Black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina.

According to the Washington Post, the CBC delivered a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch Thursday demanding “aggressive action” and “an end to what appears to be the targeting and profiling of Black people that result in their deaths.”

“We will not continue to ask our constituents to continue to be patient without any hope for change,” the caucus wrote in a letter read aloud by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) at a news conference Thursday. “These killings cannot continue to go unaddressed or ignored by our government.”

The recent shootings of Oklahoma man Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott of Charlotte have only fanned the flames of racial tensions in America, prompting citizens to take to the streets to demand justice. The officer involved in Crutcher’s death has since been charged with first-degree manslaughter, while violent protests erupted in Charlotte after the police chief refused to release video of the events leading up to Scott’s fatal shooting.

On Wednesday, the caucus decided it would take its case straight to the Justice Department in hopes of speeding up the government’s response to such shootings, the Washington Post reports. CBC members said they’re essentially looking for the DOJ to “intervene to guarantee a solution” in “the elimination of unlawful police shootings.”

“Madam Attorney General, you have the unique opportunity and constitutional responsibility to change this narrative,” the CBC letter read. “We believe every person whose civil rights may have been violated is entitled to a full and complete investigation by the Department of Justice.”

However, the DOJ’s track record in prosecuting fatal police shootings has been dismal to say the least. Many in the Black community have remained doubtful of the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute officers due to its past trouble bringing charges in similar cases involving police shootings.

For instance, the agency declined to criminally charge officer Darren Wilson for the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in August 2014. Wilson was officially cleared of all civil rights violations in the fatal shooting, in which the Black teen was shot several times, according to Atlanta Black Star. Then, in February 2015, the DOJ announced that wanna-be neighborhood cop George Zimmerman didn’t violate the civil rights of Travyon Martin, 17, either.

According to ABS, the feds also failed to bring charges against the officers who killed Minneapolis man Jamar Clark. Officers were in the process of answering a domestic dispute call when the 24-year-old was shot in the head while handcuffed.

To prevent deadly shootings like these from happening in the future, CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said caucus members want to see the DOJ implement a “national standard regarding the use of lethal force.” This would include mandatory body cameras, improved police officer training and a policy that identifies and removes police officers with a tendency to “overreact.”

Per the Washington Post, seasoned members of the CBC also said they’d like to see the DOJ require states and municipalities across the nation to implement “true community policing” programs to help combat racially-biased policing. They’ve already called for votes on a number of issues, like police officer training and criminal justice reforms, the paper reports.

“A lot of what we need has already been drafted, mostly by members of the caucus,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.)

The DOJ has opened investigations into both shootings involving Crutcher and Scott.

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