It has long been clear that the administration does not take seriously the need to confront systemic racism and police brutality against people of color. From the disturbing response to peaceful protesters in the nation’s capital to this week’s largely hollow executive order, the administration’s actions have often been dangerous at worst, and empty gestures at best.
Take Attorney General William Barr’s national commission on policing, for instance. This week, representing current and former prosecutors and law enforcement leaders and working Fair and Just Prosecution, American Oversight filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s lawsuit challenging the commission’s legality under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. That law requires federal advisory committees to have a diverse and balanced membership and to allow public access to their work. And the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice has failed to comply in multiple ways.
The commission, formed by Barr in January, is composed of only a limited set of current or former law enforcement officials. Its membership does not include any representatives of civil rights groups, reform advocates and experts, or the communities impacted by policing and criminal justice policies. It also does not adequately represent those in the law enforcement community focused on the importance of building trust with the communities they serve. In its work, the commission has not solicited adequate input from the public, affected communities, or criminal justice reform experts; nor has it been open or transparent in its meetings or with its working papers. As noted in the brief, which was joined by more than 75 criminal justice leaders, building trust and legitimacy is essential for law enforcement to promote public safety. “Community policing requires police to interact with their communities in a manner that builds trust and encourages cooperation, beginning by listening openly and honestly to the public they serve.”
The recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others have underscored the urgent need for structural reform. Because the commission’s recommendations could be used to set new policy, its work must be informed by a diverse group of criminal justice leaders and affected communities.
“Given the current context of widespread protests and systemic concerns regarding police practices in communities of color, any federal commission addressing policing and criminal justice must operate openly and transparently to assure the public that its deliberations take account the points of view, interests, and needs of all stakeholders,” said American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers. “Instead, Attorney General Barr appears to have put together a narrow and secretive commission focused on demanding respect of police rather than actually earning the trust of the communities law enforcement serves. In its current form, this commission is ineffective, unrepresentative, and undemocratic.”
Balanced membership and transparency consistent with FACA are essential on these important issues, and given the previous administration’s presidential commission on policing, there is no reason to think that complying with FACA would interfere with the commission’s work. You can view the full brief here.