A Call for Action on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Police Accountability, Racial Justice

“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is a time to make justice a reality for all…” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, we are reminded that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of action.  He knew that civil rights could only be won through deliberate and strategic action.

At the Lawyers’ Committee, we strive to follow Dr. King’s example: speaking truth to power in concert with implementation of concrete solutions.  This past year, we joined the chorus of voices in denouncing police violence against Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and other victims of color.  Today, we expand our call for justice.

The Lawyers’ Committee Calls for Independent Prosecutors in Police-Related Shootings

When it comes to perceptions of justice, process matters.  That is why we believe that, in cases of police-related shootings, an independent prosecutor should be appointed to decide whether and how to seek indictments.  As it is now, these decisions are often left to local prosecutors whose job necessitates working hand-in-hand with police officers on a daily basis.  We believe this relationship raises a conflict of interest.  An independent prosecutor would help to bring greater integrity to the process and to improve community trust and accountability.

The Lawyers’ Committee Calls for Tightening the Legal Standard for Police Indictments

Shouldn’t the officers we entrust to protect and serve our neighbors, families, and children be held accountable to the highest standard of conduct?  Courts have repeatedly found that police can use force if there is probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury.  The use of force must be “objectively reasonable.”  Some police officers have been held accountable for their conduct under this standard.  However, we believe that the use of deadly force should at least be reviewed under a “reasonably necessary” standard.  Deadly force should be considered unnecessary if reasonable alternatives exist.

The Lawyers’ Committee Calls for Improved Police Officer Training on Implicit Bias and Use of Force 

Social science research has repeatedly demonstrated that all of us have implicit, or unconscious, biases that affect the way that we interact with others – and this is particularly true in policing.  Is a person walking through a residential neighborhood at night assumed to be innocent or someone to be stopped and questioned?  Far too often, the answer depends on the individual’s identity, especially their race.  But implicit bias can be controlled when addressed proactively.  Police departments must acknowledge how implicit bias leads to disparate – sometimes, tragic – results and take proactive steps to control it.  These steps must be taken together with improved training on use of force, including de-escalation and crisis intervention strategies that avoid the use of force altogether.

Today, the civil rights struggle continues.