September 22, 2014; Color of Change and the U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last Friday the launch of the Justice Department’s (DOJ) National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. His announcement was applauded by ColorofChange, an Internet-based organization that aims to strengthen the political voice of black Americans.

According to the DOJ press release, the initiative is funded through a $4.75 million grant to “create a substantial investment in training, evidence-based strategies, policy development and research to combat distrust and hostility between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

It was prompted by the recent controversy in Ferguson, Missouri, following an officer-involved shooting of an unarmed black man. The incident brought national attention to the challenges of strong police-community relationships, which is a priority for Holder.

The initiative, in partnership with DOJ, will provide training to law enforcement and communities on bias reduction and procedural fairness, applying evidence-based strategies in five pilot sites around the country. It also establishes a clearinghouse where information, research, and technical assistance are accessible for law enforcement, criminal justice practitioners and community leaders, according to the press release.

In lauding the creation of the National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice, ColorofChange, a 501(c)4 formed after the events of Hurricane Katrina, said in its own press release that it “is a positive step in the right direction,” adding that in order “for it to be successful, however, it will take significant community engagement and involvement.”

DOJ awarded the three-year grant to a consortium of national law enforcement experts led by John Jay College of Criminal Justice and including Yale Law School, the Center for Policing Equity at UCLA, and the Urban Institute. The consortium will be guided by a board of advisors made up of law enforcement, academia, and faith-based groups, as well as local groups and civil rights advocates.

According to DOJ, “the initiative will simultaneously address the tenets of procedural justice, reducing implicit bias and facilitating racial reconciliation. [It] will compliment and be advised by other Justice Department components.” It comes out of recommendations made in the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force report released in May.

While expressing support for the initiative, ColorofChange made clear the daunting challenges it faces:

“Every day, discriminatory policing tactics target Black youth and adults on the basis of dehumanizing stereotypes, leading to unjust stops, searches, and tragic death. Law enforcement cannot be allowed to kill with impunity. The Department of Justice and the White House must continue to show leadership and implement financial incentives and systemic reforms to demilitarize the police and end racial profiling.

“It’s critical that law enforcement is properly trained and held accountable for fair and just policing that respects the dignity and lives of Black and Brown people. As grantees examine and make recommendations to enhance police procedure under this latest initiative, city leaders must also take immediate steps to strengthen police accountability mechanisms, increase civilian oversight, and end failed policing tactics such as Broken Windows policing—or we’ll continue to see more tragic police killings like that of Mike Brown, John Crawford, and Eric Garner.”

—Larry Kaplan