On Tuesday, lawmakers and criminal justice watchdogs testified before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee in response to the recent killings of unarmed black men by white police officers.
In the first panel, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) shared their personal experiences and called for reforming the justice system with initiatives that tackle the deeper problems of prejudice and inequality. Sen. Booker said the criminal justice system is “woefully biased against minorities in our country.” Rep. Gutierrez recounted being racially profiled while entering the Capitol in 1996, and called for fixing conflicts of interest in the grand jury process. And Rep. Keith Ellison said state actors need to “get it right,” because people have “a right to believe that they will be dealt with justly and fairly by the state.” Watch:
A second panel focused on where immediate reforms should begin. The speakers included Dr. Cedric Alexander, who serves as the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives as well as the Public Safety director of DeKalb County, Georgia; Laura Murphy who directs the Washington Legislative Office of the ACLU; and Wade Henderson, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Cedric Alexander said it is “embarrassing as a law enforcement official” that state and local officials are not required to provide the federal government with reporting on shootings like the ones in Ferguson and Staten Island. He said transparency is key to reversing the failures of the criminal justice system and restoring trust.
Laura Murphy said for any meaningful change to happen, the federal government must collect hard data, especially on racial profiling.
Wade Henderson called for using Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to make federal funding — received by more than 85 percent of all police departments — conditional on reforming policing practices.