On Monday evening, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appeared at the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, to announce that the U.S. Department of Justice was launching a plan to “target racial profiling” across the nation. But Holder was interrupted by protesters shouting, “No justice, no peace.”
Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where Martin Luther King, Jr., preached, is a potent symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, but a small number of loud protesters did not possess the same reverence for the chapel. They screamed Ferguson protest slogans as the Attorney General attempted to address those gathered.
In response, Holder quoted a rap song, saying, “Let me make one thing clear: I ain’t mad at cha.”
Holder also praised the protesters’ “level of involvement” from which “change ultimately will come.”
That bit of excitement aside, during his remarks Holder went on to invoke King’s legacy, saying, “As this congregation knows better than most, peaceful protest has long been a hallmark, and a legacy, of past struggles for progress. This is what Dr. King taught us, half a century ago, in his eloquent words from the Ebenezer pulpit and in the vision he shared from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.”
President Obama’s Attorney General also said that the events in Ferguson, Missouri, “exposed” a rift between Americans and law enforcement. And while he chided the rioters who destroyed much of the downtown district, Holder insisted that Ferguson was an important launching point for a national discussion on race.
Holder then touted his “Smart on Crime Initiative,” launched in 2013, and said it was “already strengthening the federal criminal justice system” by urging localities to stop charging many nonviolent drug defendants with small drug charges. Holder claimed that such cases create overcrowding in prisons.
He announced a series of new policies that he insisted would “strengthen promising practices by local police while bolstering law enforcement and community relations.”
He began by reporting that the White House was reviewing the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, the now-controversial program that gave local law enforcement agencies access to surplus military hardware.
Secondly, Holder said that the administration is putting $200 million into a program to work with local police departments to encourage them to place body cameras on officers on the streets.
His third step was more procedural. “In the coming days, I will announce updated Justice Department guidance regarding profiling by federal law enforcement,” Holder said. “This will institute rigorous new standards–and robust safeguards–to help end racial profiling, once and for all. This new guidance will codify our commitment to the very highest standards of fair and effective policing.”
Holder also announced that Obama is creating yet another task force of experts this time to look at the issue of “21st Century Policing.” Of this effort Holder said, “This important Task Force will ask tough questions, examine thorny challenges, and consider the state of the law enforcement profession in a broad and inclusive way.”
While in Georgia, Holder also met with members of law enforcement and groups of community leaders in what he promises will be the first in a series of such meetings around the country.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.