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Staffers Discuss Policing After Garner, Brown Decisions

Members and staffers participated in a demonstration in December on the steps of the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Members and staffers participated in a demonstration in December on the steps of the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Staffers gathered Thursday in the Capitol Visitor Center to continue discussing community policing in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner jury decisions.  

Through organizations such as the Congressional Black Associates and the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus — black Hill staffers have sought to bring awareness to issues surrounding policing in black communities. After putting together a demonstration on the Capitol steps in December, organizers see Thursday’s CVC panel discussion as a logical next step. “There was a desire to really develop solutions to a lot of the community problems that have been in the news recently,” said Victoria Bright, the vice president of the CBA. “There’s just a real desire to get some policy moving that addresses those issues and creates change for the better.”  

Cathy Lanier, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, talked about her experience in law enforcement and her department’s efforts at community policing.  

“Community policing is policing with the community and not policing of the community,” Lanier said. “It works very well. I think when people realized in that community — it wasn’t smooth at first — but people realized in that community very quickly the sincerity of the effort and they built those relationships one officer at a time.”  

While policing is largely seen as a state and local issue, several panelists pointed to areas in which they think the federal government should play a larger role.  

Keenan Keller, senior counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, pointed to grant programs that tie the feds to local jurisdictions. “The federal government, through the Department of Justice and increasingly, through the Department of Homeland Security, exercises a great deal of influence with state and local law enforcement agencies,” Keller said.  

But Keller also said federal lawmakers and the president are hesitant to exercise that authority due to heavy pressure from local police management groups and unions.  

“To the extent that folks are talking about ‘Black Lives Matter’ and trying to come up with a grassroots agenda, while it’s trying to get itself organized, it’s up against a juggernaut that comes to the Hill on an annualized basis,” he said.  

Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s vice president for advocacy, said there should be more support for bills like the End Racial Profiling Act, which stalled in the 113th Congress but will be re-introduced soon by House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., according to Shelton.  

Angela Rye, a principal at Impact Strategies, advised the attendees to work hard at building relationships across political and racial boundaries.  

“Figure out a way to not only work with the folks that look like us but work with the folks across the aisle whether they look like us or not,” said Rye. “Steve Scalise can be ‘David Duke without the baggage,’ but we need David Duke with and without the baggage to move this initiative. We don’t care what kind of baggage he has.”  

Rye was referring to the recent controversy surrounding House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, after news surfaced that he spoke to a white supremacist organization in 2002 when he was in the state Legislature.  

“I think the pathway is through Steve Scalise,” said Rye. “I think he has some ground to make up. I know he met with [Congressional Black Caucus] members last week to address this. … I know the CBC members intend to continue to talk to him and address it. I know he’s a friend to some of them. That is the most direct and immediate pathway.”  

Rye was also heartened by the turnout for Thursday’s panel and how well the event’s message was received. And before wrapping up the discussion she added one more bit of advice for staffers: “Stay. Woke.”  

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