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Blunt asks AG Barr to revive post-Ferguson strategies to combat police brutality

June 03, 2020

Sen. Roy Blunt sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr Wednesday urging him to revive strategies to curtail racial profiling and excessive force by local police departments that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has abandoned during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The Missouri Republican told Barr that measures taken after unrest in Ferguson in 2014 provide a model that DOJ should pursue in the wake of national protests against police violence.

“I have seen firsthand how the federal government can play an important role in addressing the failures of the local justice system, rebuilding trust in police departments, and restoring confidence in government institutions,” Blunt wrote.

Blunt, a member of Senate GOP leadership, noted that after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Anthony Lamar Smith in St. Louis three Missouri police departments underwent comprehensive reviews by the DOJ. The Ferguson Police Department entered into a 2016 consent decree — a court-approved agreement — “to address unlawful police practices.”

The 129-page plan called for Ferguson to establish stronger restrictions on the use of lethal force and on retaliatory force by officers.

In the letter, Blunt lamented that the DOJ has “walked away” from using pattern-or-practice reviews to investigate racial bias at local police departments and in 2018 began heavily restricting the use of consent decrees.

He called on Barr to immediately resume robust use of pattern-or-practice reviews and to provide “greater latitude” for consent decrees after they were largely phased out under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The decision to curtail these strategies has come under harsh scrutiny following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, an African American man, asphyxiated and died after a white police offer held a knee to his neck for nearly 9 minutes, sparking national outrage.

Blunt had floated his plans to write to Barr in a speech on the Senate floor the previous day.

Democratic Reps. Emanuel Cleaver and William Lacy, two of the most prominent African American leaders in Missouri, applauded the move.

“The same standard that applied in Ferguson should apply in Minneapolis too, and we hope that it leads to the kind of fundamental reforms via a consent decree as was achieved in Ferguson that transformed their police department and city government,” the Missouri Democrats said in a joint statement.

“We cannot allow this utter contempt for Black lives and rejection of our common humanity to continue without consequences for not just the alleged murderer and other officers who stood by and did nothing to stop this crime, but by exposing and reforming the culture of police violence against persons of color that allowed this murder to happen.”  

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