LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday said the unrest after a Missouri police officer fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old in August shows law enforcement must directly address tensions within communities.
Holder also called for an expanded review of police techniques and tactics in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting to provide national direction to law enforcement.
Holder and former President Bill Clinton spoke at the start of a two-day meeting of mayors and police chiefs gathered to talk about lessons from the shooting of Brown by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and the protests that followed. Holder told the group that what happened in the St. Louis suburb put a national spotlight on the rift between police and citizens in many cities.
“The events in Ferguson reminded us that we cannot and we must not allow tensions, which are present in so many neighborhoods across America, to go unresolved,” Holder said at the meeting held by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
He said the Justice Department’s broad review of police techniques, tactics and training should be expanded “to provide strong, national direction on a scale not seen since President Lyndon Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement nearly half a century ago.”
Holder, who announced his resignation last month, visited Ferguson after the shooting to help ease tensions. The Justice Department is investigating whether Brown’s civil rights were violated.
“When I traveled to Ferguson in the days after that incident, my pledge to the people of that community was that our nation’s Department of Justice would remain focused on the challenges they faced, and the deep-seated issues and difficult conversations that the shooting brought to the surface, long after national headlines had faded,” he said.
The Wednesday meeting was held at the Clinton presidential library in Little Rock and marked the 20th anniversary of Clinton establishing the Community Oriented Policing Services program. Clinton and Holder heralded the program, saying it was key to restoring trust between police and citizens.
“We know that if we have a situation where the law enforcement community and the government generally is inclusive and represents all elements of the community and (is) connected, we’re more likely to make good, decent decisions and less likely to make big, bad mistakes,” Clinton said.
Clinton also warned about the impact of departments using surplus military equipment under a program that is now the subject of a White House review. The program began during Clinton’s administration, but the former president said he didn’t know about it.
The mayors who are meeting expect to present a plan to the Justice Department on how to improve community-police relationships following the Ferguson shooting.