On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at an interfaith service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the same location where Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, and vowed to “end racial profiling, once and for all.” It was the first in a series of regional meetings throughout the country, which President Obama initiated in response to the grand jury decision not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson, which spurred nationwide race riots.
“In the coming days, I will announce updated Justice Department guidance regarding profiling by federal law enforcement,” Holder said. ‘This new guidance will codify our commitment to the very highest standards of fair and effective policing.” He will be meeting with law enforcement and community leaders from across the country.
Holder’s announcement comes in conjunction with Obama’s meeting with Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders at the White House on Monday. The President was highly criticized for inviting the known tax evader into the White House for advice. “I cannot imagine any previous American president of either party welcoming an inciter of mobs like Rev. Sharpton into the White House, into his inner councils for sober advice, you’re not going to get it from him,” said Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder. Kinder has been a media favorite in the wake of the clash between police and protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, for his no-nonsense approach to handling those responsible for torching police cars and looting local businesses. Most recently, he called for the arrest of Michael Brown’s stepfather for inciting the violent race riots.
Holder’s meeting in Atlanta included a closed roundtable discussion with law enforcement and community leaders followed by a public interfaith service and community forum.
The meeting came on the heels of Obama’s request to federal agencies Monday for recommendations to ensure the U.S. isn’t building a ‘militarized culture’ within police departments.
The White House also announced it wants more police to wear cameras that capture their interactions with civilians. The cameras are part of a $263 million spending package to help police departments improve their community relations.
The selection of King’s church as the site for the meeting was significant. The most successful and enduring movements for change adhere to the principles of non-aggression and nonviolence that King preached, Holder said.
“As this congregation knows better than most, peaceful protest has long been a hallmark, and a legacy, of past struggles for progress,” Holder said preacher-style to attendees of the Monday meeting. “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.” Holder also reminded his audience that the federal investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown is ongoing, which received loud applause.
However, not everyone was so happy to see the outgoing Attorney General. A group of protesters interrupted his speech, at which point they were escorted out, though Holder lauded their “genuine expression of concern and involvement.” Meanwhile, several dozen more protesters stood outside the doors of the church chanting and holding signs referencing Ferguson.
Holder is continuing his legacy as the race-baiting head of the Justice Department. He has notoriously made civil rights his top priority, though many believe his efforts have contributed to increasingly strained race relations within the country. Holder has paid special attention to the treatment of minorities in the criminal justice system and advocated for alternatives to prison time for non-violent offenders. He also backed changes in federal sentencing guidelines which could result in tens of thousands of drug offenders being granted an early release from prison.
Holder may be trying to calm racial tensions in the weeks before he retires from his position, but his track record would make anyone skeptical that he will actually accomplish that. Typically, he does more damage than good, which is one reason he was forced to resign and is the only sitting U.S. Attorney General to have ever been held in contempt of Congress.