Chairman Nadler Statement for the Oversight Hearing on Policing Practices
Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during a hearing on policing practices:
“Today’s hearing furthers our Committee’s longstanding commitment to conducting meaningful oversight of state and federal law enforcement, as initiated by former Chairman Goodlatte and his establishment of the bipartisan Policing Strategies Working Group. Together, we have had productive conversations about improving relations between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve, and today we continue that important discussion.
“Without question, the vast majority of law enforcement officers serve honorably under difficult conditions, often risking, and sometimes losing their lives to protect us.
“There have been, however, a disturbing number of incidents of excessive force used by police against civilians—many of whom were unarmed, most of whom were people of color, and many of which resulted in tragic death—that have put incredible strain on the relationship between law enforcement and their communities.
“For example, on July 17, 2014, five New York Police Department Officers attempted to arrest Eric Garner, a 42 year-old father of 6, for allegedly selling loose cigarettes by tackling him to the ground and placing him in an illegal chokehold. He repeatedly told the officers, ‘I can’t breathe.’ The officers ignored his pleas as he slipped into unconsciousness.
“No one was held criminally responsible for Mr. Garner’s death. We are fortunate to be joined by Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, and I say to you that the criminal justice system failed you, your son, and your entire family.
“Shockingly, the officer responsible for placing Mr. Garner in a departmentally-banned chokehold remained on the force for 5 years before finally being fired this past August.
“On September 9, 2015, James Blake, an African American professional tennis player, was standing outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan when Officer James Frascatore, for no apparent reason, charged him, wrestled him to the ground and placed him in handcuffs.
“New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that reviews complaints for police misconduct, determined that Frascatore used excessive force, and recommended that the officer be punished with departmental disciplinary charges that could lead to suspension or dismissal. Instead, his only punishment was to lose 5 vacation days.
“Mr. Garner’s death and the assault on Mr. Blake, both at the hands of police officers sworn to protect and serve, should alarm all Americans, regardless of party, regardless of political ideology, regardless of race, religion, or gender. This is not a partisan issue. There are no ‘sides.’
“Too often, the discourse on police misconduct descends into a false dichotomy of us vs. them; Blue Lives vs. Black Lives. This is a false and dangerous dichotomy.
“The United States stands as the world’s greatest experiment in self-government. The legitimacy and authority of our nation’s government rests upon the consent of its people: ‘We’ the people. This principle particularly applies to law enforcement, which has been given the authority to use deadly force under color of law. There can be no doubt, unfortunately, that communities of color perceive law enforcement as a threat to their every-day freedoms.
“These perceptions go back decades, pre-dating both the 1994 Los Angeles Riots, and the 1965 Watts riots, both of which were sparked by a lack of accountability for incidents of police brutality. These perceptions are reality for African Americans. According to the Center for Policing Equity, African Americans are 2 to 4 times more likely than white Americans to have force used against them.
“For far too long, however, pleas for more just and humane treatment from law enforcement have fallen on deaf ears. Claims of police misconduct coming from communities of color have often been either ignored or simply not believed. But Mr. Garner’s killing, and a series of other examples of police misconduct against African Americans, many of which were caught on video, make it unmistakably clear, that claims of police misconduct are all too real. To list just a few:
“The frequency of these killings, and the absence of full accountability for those responsible, sent a message to members of the African American community that Black Lives Do Not Matter. Well, let me state clearly for the record that Black Lives Matter.
“Our criminal justice system, including our police departments, cannot function without African Americans knowing that their lives matter equally and that the system works to protect them, just as it does every other citizen.
“We must also be able to put ourselves in the shoes of our law enforcement officers. We must be able to celebrate the service and sacrifices of our men and women in law enforcement, who put their lives on the line day in and day out. We must recognize the psychological toll that serving in such an inherently dangerous job can take on individual law enforcement officers, and their families.
“It is also critical that we not paint law enforcement with a broad brush. The vast majority of officers execute their jobs with dignity, honor and respect for the citizens they serve and protect. Every American should take pride in that. Research shows that a small percentage of repeat offenders are responsible for the majority of incidents of misconduct.
“Today’s hearing presents a unique opportunity for us to hear from some of the individuals and families affected by police misconduct. So I want to personally thank Ms. Carr, for speaking at this hearing on behalf of her son, and Mr. Blake, for sharing his personal story with us.
“Today presents an opportunity for us to explore bipartisan solutions to make policing a safer, more fulfilling job for law enforcement officers by restoring the trust and goodwill between police and the communities they serve. We can re-examine the efficacy of reforms advanced by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and determine what further solutions are warranted.
“For example, we should examine whether the incentives created by the doctrine of qualified immunity remain useful in today’s environment. We should consider legislative proposals to end racial profiling and to restore trust between law enforcement and the community. And we should explore ways to strengthen data collection on use of force and racial profiling so that police departments can measure the practices they manage.
“But most important, we can all agree that too many lives are put at risk and have been lost in police/citizen encounters, and that it is incumbent upon each of us to work together as fellow Americans to solve this problem.
“I thank all of our witnesses for appearing, and I look forward to their testimony.”