Today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the U.S. Justice Department would begin collecting data on how many times people are stopped, searched and arrested by police as a way of sussing out problematic stop-and-frisk and racial profiling practices. Said Holder in a video released this afternoon:
“This overrepresentation of young men of color in our criminal justice system is a problem we must confront–not only as an issue of individual responsibility but also as one of fundamental fairness, and as an issue of effective law enforcement. Racial disparities contribute to tension in our nation generally and within communities of color specifically, and tend to breed resentment towards law enforcement that is counterproductive to the goal of reducing crime.”
The new initiative, called National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice, will operate not only as a data collection service for racial profiling, but also “to analyze and reduce the effect of racial bias within the criminal justice system,” said Holder.
These efforts were triggered in part by the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, which moved President Obama to call for “a better understanding between law enforcement and young men of color.” Holder said that Obama charged the Justice Department with working more closely with local police agencies and to improve training around racial profiling problems.
The initiative also is working in alignment with President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which is meant to help young black and Latino men take better advantage of educational and economic opportunities. This National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice appears to also aim at addressing racist policies that often block young men of color from those opportunities.
“As a key part of this initiative, we will work with grant recipients and local law enforcement to collect data about stops and searches, arrests, and case outcomes in order to help assess the impact of possible bias,” said Holder. “We will conduct this research while simultaneously implementing strategies in five initial pilot sites with the goal of reducing the role of bias and building confidence in the justice system among young people of color. This work will likely include anti-gang and mentoring projects intended to empower young African-American and Latino males and break the vicious cycle of poverty, incarceration, and crime that destroys too many promising futures each and every day.”
“I think it’s wonderful that the Department of Justice wants to support reductions in racial disparities,” said Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, assistant professor of social psychology at UCLA. He also serves as president of the Center for Policing Equity, which was the first center for gathering and analyzing data on police stops and searches in major cities across the nation, starting last year. “This kind of work is central to achieving our democratic principles, and it will take many partners to make it happen.”