Civil Rights Groups Call for Congressional Action on Fatal Police Shootings

April 10, 2018 1:45 pm

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF), called on Congress today to take action in response to the national crisis of fatal police shootings.

The leading civil rights groups voice their concern in the wake of the killing of three Black men — Stephon Clark, Danny Ray Thomas, and Saheed Vassell — by police in recent weeks, as well as the more than 1,000 people killed by police in 2017 alone, and the 300 people shot and killed by police thus far in 2018. In many of these cases, victims were unarmed or experiencing mental health crises.

Advocates submitted a letter to the congressional Working Group on Policing Strategies, which was formed in 2016, noting that “our nation’s conscience has been rocked by a series of tragic events that have resulted in the loss of too many lives.” And yet in the two years since — let alone in the four years since Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 — little progress has been made towards the Working Group’s reported goals of “end[ing] excessive force” and “strengthen[ing] police accountability.”

While the current Congress fails to advance or even consider any meaningful police reform legislation, the public continues to rely on open sources to provide a national census of fatal police shootings. According to these sources, Black people are still three times more likely than white people to be killed by police. People of color represent more than 50 percent of those unarmed during fatal encounters with police. The data indicates police violence and racial bias to be a systemic problem, not simply the result of “a few bad actors.”

“One thousand people are killed by police every year, many of them of color, and many of them of unarmed,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, deputy director at the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “We cannot accept fatal police shootings of this magnitude as business as usual. The crisis we find ourselves in means everyone has new work to do, and this includes members of Congress. We are calling upon our federal lawmakers to provide the necessary oversight, resources, and policy to end this epidemic of police violence.”

Todd A. Cox, LDF’s policy director, said, “The deaths of Stephon Clark, Danny Ray Thomas, and Saheed Vassell underscore the urgent need for Congress to pass life-saving policing reform legislation. Our nation’s lawmakers must finally take action to require national data collection on police use of force and de-escalation training rather than advancing unnecessary punitive measures that threaten to put Black and Brown lives at greater risk.”

“Our justice system should be fair and impartial, but the sad reality is that it is still rife with systemic racial discrimination,” said Kristine Lucius, executive vice president of policy for The Leadership Conference. “Recent police killings of unarmed Black people and other people of color make it clear why it is imperative for Congress to act to restore the trust between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.”

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