And a REAL Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s comments to senators during his confirmation hearing put Congress and the U.S. on notice as to how the 86th U.S. Attorney General would lead the U.S. Department of Justice. There is a new sheriff in town.

“It is a fitting time to reaffirm that the role of the Attorney General is to serve the rule of law and to ensure equal justice under the law,” Garland told the senators, CBS reported.

Political observers noted the irony and karma of Garlands 70-30 Senate confirmation.

“I hope they’re fair,” President Obama said of Senate Republicans in the Rose Garden on March 16, 2016. Back then  he announced Merrick Garland, Chief Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as his Supreme Court nominee. “That’s all. I hope they’re fair,” according to the USA TODAY.

Obama chose Garland to replace Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a far-right Republican on the court.

Senate Republicans were not fair. They blocked Obama’s nominee for 11 months. Later they used the nuclear option” of abolishing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Then they confirmed Trump’s nominee, Court of Appeals Judge Neil McGill Gorsuch, a Republican, on April 7, 2021.

VP Harris swears in Garland

Garland took over the Department of Justice on March 11, 2021. It is clear that there is a new sheriff in town.

Justice proponents were optimistic that Garland, the nation’s top law enforcement official, would oversee a department whose main objective was securing justice for all, unlike his predecessor.

Political commentators often opined that former U.S. Attorney General William Barr acted more like former President Donald J. Trump Sr.’s personal attorney than the people’s attorney.

Barr used the Department of Justice (DOJ) as a sword against Trump’s opponents and a shield to protect Trump and his friends from criminal and civil liabilities.

“Barr has on numerous occasions interfered with impartial prosecutions, prioritized politics over justice, undermined the independent special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and hindered congressional oversight,” according to the New York Times.

On the other hand, Garland has held several positions at the Department of Justice. And he has a reputation for being fair and just.

 “I served under five Attorneys General appointed by four Presidents. I know that some of you have notched up plenty more,” he told the DOJ’s 115,000 staffers on his first day on the job.

“All of us are united by our commitment to the rule of law and to seeking equal justice under law,” Garland told them. The only way the department would succeed would be if DOJ norms are followed.

“Those norms require that like cases be treated alike. That there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans; One rule for friends and another for foes. And one rule for the powerful and another for the powerless; One rule for the rich and another for the poor; Or different rules depending upon one’s race or ethnicity,” Garland said.

Since taking the helm, Garland’s DOJ has launched pattern and practice investigations into the Minneapolis and Louisville Police Departments. And the DOJ brought charges against law enforcement and corrections officials.

The DOJ has also charged people for fraud, money laundering, hate crimes, wrongful deaths. And the department has taken a stand for environmental justice, civil rights, and injustices committed against people of color.

The investigation of the MPD comes on the heels of the deaths of unarmed black men, George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and Philando Castile. In Castile’s murder, no charges were brought. One of Floyd’s killer cops, Derek Chauvin, is awaiting sentencing. He was convicted for murder and the other three cops have yet to go to trial. Daunte Wright’s killer has been indicted and awaiting trial.

“The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests,” said Attorney General Garland. “We undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.”

Clearly, the outcry over the killing of Breonna Taylor, an EMT, by Louisville cops was the impetus for launching the Louisville probe.

 “Most of our nation’s law enforcement officers do their difficult jobs honorably and lawfully,” but “The Justice Department is “charged with ensuring that the constitutional and federal statutory rights of all people are protected,” Garland concluded.

Taylor was in bed when Louisville Police kicked in her door unannounced. They were serving a “no-knock warrant” looking for a drug dealer. No drugs were present.

None of the cops who killed Taylor have been held accountable. Then there was the killing of Michael Brown, the same thing. No accountability.

“I know that justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive, and sometimes never comes. The challenges we face are deeply woven into our history. They did not arise today or last year. The Department of Justice will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under law. 

The new DOJ has also brought charges against the white supremacists who killed jogger Ahmaud Arbery.

Garland’s approach to killing unarmed black people by the police is a sea change from protectionism, the benefit of the doubt, and qualified immunity afforded to law enforcement officers.

Under the Trump and Obama administrations, cops were rarely, if ever, held accountable for murdering black people.

Trump’s DOJ acquitted twelve year old Tamir Rice’s killers in December 2020.

Federal prosecutors didn’t charge former cop Timothy Loehmann in 2015. They said “the video of the shooting was of too poor a quality to establish what had happened.”

Never mind that Loehmann killed Rice two seconds after he jumped out of the patrol car because he thought the child’s air gun was real.

Rice’s family last month sent a letter to Garland. They want the case to be reopened.  

In July 2020, as hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the street and accelerated the Black Lives Matter Movement, St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell reviewed the Michael Brown case. He declined to bring charges against ex-cop Darren Wilson, who killed the 18-year-old unarmed black teen in 2014. Bell cited a lack of concrete evidence to charge Wilson criminally, despite a video showing Wilson killing Brown as the youth held his hands up.  

Obama’s DOJ and Bell’s predecessor declined to prosecute Wilson in 2015. The DOJ did, however, wrote a scathing report about the Ferguson Police Department.

In the past, cops weren’t prosecuted for murder for several reasons:

  • alleged lack of evidence,
  • state and local laws
  • qualified immunity
  • the absence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt (a subjective loophole)
  • an evident lack of concern by local, state, and federal lawmakers about the killing of unarmed black people that continues year after year.

Make no mistake. The killings reached epidemic proportions after the election of the nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama. During his tenure we saw murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Terrence Crutcher, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and many others. Their killers remain free.

Despite consent decrees, settlements, and investigations by Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder, state laws, local prosecutors, and qualified immunity hampered the department’s ability to criminally charge the cops and white supremacists with hate crimes.

In 2021, Americans continue to demand justice as the killings continue. President Biden and Garland’s DOJ acknowledge and understand the calls for justice and the need for diversity within its ranks.

Vanita Gupta

Biden selected Lisa Monaco, a national security expert, and Vanita Gupta, a longtime civil rights advocate, to serve as deputy attorney general and associate attorney general, the department’s second and third positions.

The Senate confirmed both. Monaco, who is white, sailed through her confirmation hearing with a v 98-2 vote, but Republicans were mostly unified in their opposition to Gupta, who is of Indian descent. The Senate confirmed Gupta in a 51-49 vote.

Clearly, Monaco is eminently qualified for her new post. “She is one of the nation’s foremost national security experts,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said of Monaco during her confirmation hearing.

Monaco was in private practice before taking her current position at the DOJ.

Before that, Monaco served in various roles in the Justice Department and White House. Monaco worked at the FBI with former director Robert Mueller; she served as assistant attorney general in the National Security Division. She also worked as Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.

Speaking about Vanita Gupta’s qualifications, Senate Majority Leader to NBC News, ” In her very first case after law school, she won the release of several African Americans who had been wrongfully convicted by all-white juries in Texas.”

Gupta also worked with the NAACP-LDF, the  Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the ACLU. Gupta, who ran the Justice Department’s civil rights division as an associate attorney general during the Obama administration, will bring a “long overdue perspective” to the department, Schumer said.

Biden said Kristen Clarke, the head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, whom he nominated to run the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, is an eminently qualified, highly respected lawyer. The latter has spent her entire career fighting to advance racial equity and justice.

Kristen Clarke

Kristen Clarke,  daughter of Jamaican immigrants and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is still waiting for Senate confirmation.

“If Clarke, 45, is confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to lead this division since its inception in 1957,” CNN reported.

Clarke is more than qualified to lead the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. The Harvard and Columbia Law School graduate worked in the Justice Department’s Attorney General’s Honors Program for six years during the George W. Bush Administration.

Clarke also worked on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s voting rights project and at the Civil Rights Bureau in the New York State Attorney General’s Office, where she was the state’s top civil rights enforcement officer.

During Clarke’s April 13, 2021 senate confirmation hearing, the racism and discrimination fell from the mouths of white male Senate Republicans just as they did during Gupta’s hearings but even worse.

Senators Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Tom Cotton, and others attacked Clarke relentlessly with mischaracterizations of her words and deeds.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to vote on Clarke’s nomination, but it’s going to take every Senate Democrat and the Vice-President to confirm her.

Learn more:   Lists of public releases of DOJ actions    Louisville P.D. Investigation Announcement     Garland Speaks to DOJ staffers   Police Who Have Killed Black Americans: Where Are They Now?  CNN Report on White Republican Attacks on Clarke.

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