In response to a white police officer shooting Michael Brown in Missouri, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced a broader civil rights probe into the Ferguson Police Department—an action that could lead to a federal takeover of the police.
While such probes might not lead to Department of Justice punishment for past local police conduct, it could pave the way for “systemic legal reform going forward,” according to CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
“It’s very serious,” Toobin said of the investigation, before it was formally announced, “because it can lead to a virtual federal takeover of the police, as happened recently in New Orleans.”
After Brown’s death, the DOJ descended on Ferguson similarly to its response to the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida in 2012. Then, DOJ sent its Civil Rights public relations unit—the Community Relations Service (CRS)—to act as “peacemakers.”
But talking wasn’t all CRS did in Florida, and it’s not all in Missouri, either. According to Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, who spoke with the Daily Caller last month, CRS “protest marshals” helped train people demonstrating against police over the shooting.
These are the same people Holder called on after the Ferguson shooting to promote greater diversity in the police departments: “Justice Department officials from the Community Relations Service are also on the ground in Missouri to help convene law enforcement officials and civic and faith leaders to plot out steps to reduce tensions in the community…Over time, these conversations should consider the role that increased diversity in law enforcement can play in helping to build trust within communities.”
Diffusing, or Provoking, Hate Crimes?
The official mission of the CRS, which was created as part of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, “is to help local communities address community conflicts and tensions arising from disputes, disagreements, or difficulties over race, color, and national origin.”
Its powers were broadened in 2009 by President Obama when he signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The new law gave the CRS—a small, little-known unit in the DOJ—the power to “develop strategies and respond to violent hate crimes.” According to the DOJ’s website, “Through this law, we will strengthen the protections against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart, or the place of your birth. We will finally add federal protections against crimes abased on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”
This is the same unit Breitbart News caught participating in protests at the Republican National Convention in 2012, where “a CRS representative and a protester” were seen “to high-five each other.” According to Breitbart, CRS representatives were also “seen relaying specific instructions to the activists about the location of prearranged buses that were apparently taking them to their next scheduled demonstration.”
It seems CRS is more concerned with agitating than peacemaking—which contradicts their promise of remaining “neutral.” So, when they showed up in Ferguson, it wasn’t surprising that protests escalated and now Holder is launching more probes to weed out civil-rights violations in Ferguson. Since Holder failed to make the Brown shooting a civil-rights issue, he now needs to advance his agenda another way by broadening the issue to anecdotal complaints by citizens to the CRS about racial injustices.
We Can Fix You
According to Holder, the “conversations” the CRS and its “peacemakers” had with people in the community have revealed extensive racial injustices in the police department—especially its lack of diversity. This has given Holder the green light to open a probe.
“Over the course of that visit, I had the chance to speak with a number of local residents. I heard from them directly about the deep mistrust that has taken hold between law enforcement officials and members of the community. In meetings and listening sessions—as well as informal conversations—people consistently expressed concerns stemming from specific alleged incidents, from general policing practices, and from the lack of diversity on Ferguson’s police force.”
“These anecdotal accounts underscored the history of mistrust of law enforcement in Ferguson that has received a good deal of attention. As a result of this history—and following an extensive review of documented allegations and other available data—we have determined that there is cause for the Justice Department to open an investigation to determine whether Ferguson Police officials have engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the U.S. Constitution or federal law.”
“Our investigation will assess the police department’s use of force, including deadly force. It will analyze stops, searches, and arrests. And it will examine the treatment of individuals detained at Ferguson’s city jail, in addition to other potentially discriminatory policing techniques and tactics that are brought to light.”
Focus On Race More—Or Else
When Holder called on police departments to check their “diversity problem,” he wasn’t talking only to those in Missouri. Police departments across the nation have responded by taking a harder look at their diversity in wake of the shooting in Ferguson.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, police statistics show the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) has become more diverse in recent years, but the department still doesn’t “reflect the racial makeup of Charlotte”: “Fifty percent of the people who live in Charlotte are white, according to the latest census data; 35 percent are black and 13.1 percent are Hispanic.” Such disparities are common across the country, but with Holder and the CRS breathing down their necks, police departments are sure to hire more minorities.
As the Charlotte police chief said: “We have to be deliberate in targeting minorities [in hiring]. Now our strategy is focusing on an obligation—what they can do to help their community. How do we get away from the stigma of, ‘I don’t want to associate with the police.’”
This diversity “obligation” seems to be rooted in the assumption that the greatest threat to blacks is white police officers. This, however, is not the case. The leading cause of death for African-American males is murder—and not by police, but by “other black men.” The raw numbers show more whites are killed by police officers than blacks, because there are more whites in the population (five to one). When you factor this in, the death rate for blacks due to “legal intervention” is more than three times higher than whites. But once again, you have to look at the broader picture, and since more than 50 percent of murders are committed by blacks, it’s not surprising that more of them die in police shootings.
According to Human Events, “In New York from January to June 2008, 83 percent of all gun assailants were black, according to witnesses and victims, though blacks were only 24 percent of the population. Blacks and Hispanics together accounted for 98 percent of all gun assailants. Forty-nine of every 50 muggings and murders in the Big Apple were the work of black or Hispanic criminals.” How many of these facts will be taken into consideration in Holder’s quest for diversity? Not much, it seems.
The problem, according to Holder, is lack of diversity, and the unit on the front lines to root out Civil Rights violations appears to be the CRS.
An Opening for Federal Takeover
If Toobin is right, and the DOJ investigations could be a pathway for the federal government to take over local police departments, then the role of the CRS and its “conversations” with local officials and activist groups is significant.
Imagine this scenario: Anytime there is a police shooting or any interaction between a white police officer and a non-white person, the CRS swoops in to agitate the situation. Protests ensue. Investigations are done, and police departments are examined to see if they are diverse enough. When they’re not, either the feds bring civil-rights lawsuits against them or step in to run the show because the local police department can’t be trusted to protect minorities. The result is a slow but effective takeover of local law enforcement by the federal government—all in the name of diversity and civil rights, propelled by the involvement of a seemingly benign organization—the CRS—that is supposed to be a neutral “peacemaker.”
Those who say a group like CRS is necessary to help ease racial tensions need to explain why this must occur at the federal level. Why have the full power and force of the U.S. Department of Justice behind a community relations unit? Why threaten a takeover of local law enforcement by the federal government—something that is a greater threat to our liberties in the long run than too many white people in police departments?
Local community race relations groups are already in place doing this job. The Community Relations Committee in Mecklenburg County, for example, is a human relations agency of the city and county—not the federal government. They mirror the mission of the CRS at the local level. Why then, does this federal agency, the CRS, need to do what locals are already doing?
It’s an Excuse for a Power Grab
The answer lies in the design and goals of the Obama administration and Holder’s DOJ, which seem to have little regard for local governments or checks and balances, and are continuing to push the boundaries of federal authority, using racial relations, diversity, and civil rights issues as the excuse.
Why is this a problem? Why shouldn’t the federal government take control of all local police departments? Because centralized power threatens liberty. As Thomas Jefferson said, “When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.”
The Founders purposely wrote into the Constitution a system of checks and balances in which there would be the federal government with limited powers, and state and local governments with indefinite powers. Local police are part of local governments and play an integral role in the dispersion of power. Imagine if the national government, not local municipalities, controlled all police forces throughout the country. What if all we had was a national police force? Who would stand against the totalitarian state, who would defend the cities and the individual against a consolidated, arbitrary power?
State and local governments are supposed to have sovereignty. Integral to that is a police force accountable to that local community. If the federal government takes over local police departments, local governments lose an integral part of their sovereignty, which puts individuals—who are protected by the dispersion of force—at risk.
We need to heed Jefferson’s warnings. He passionately opposed consolidation of force, because the “greatest calamity” that Americans can face is “submission to a government of unlimited powers.” The Founders understood that consolidation, or bringing all powers into one fold, would inevitably lead to corruption. They understood what we need to remember—that absolute power corrupts absolutely.