Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks At The Advocates And Leaders For Police And Community Trust (alpact) Awards Dinner

Press Release

Date: Nov. 19, 2009
Location: Washington, DC

Thank you, Terry. I'd like to thank ALPACT for the opportunity to join you this evening. I'd also like to thank Mayor Bing for welcoming me here in Detroit.

It's a pleasure to be with you this evening in the Motor City. I'm honored to participate in ALPACT's first annual banquet, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to discuss an issue that I care about deeply -- fostering collaboration between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. I can't imagine a more fitting occasion for my first trip to Southeastern Michigan as Attorney General.

Forty-two years ago, this city saw first-hand the worst that can happen when the lines of communication break down between law enforcement agencies and the communities they are sworn to protect. This city still bears scars from one of the worst periods of civic unrest in our nation's history. For more than four decades this city and its surrounding communities have worked hard to heal those wounds. Many of you here this evening have spent significant portions of your careers in that effort.

There was no ALPACT forty-two years ago -- no institutionalized way for law enforcement agencies to communicate with the men and women who represented Detroit's rapidly diversifying community. ALPACT's effort to create such a dialogue more than a decade ago could not have been more timely, or more important.

We have come a long way over the last four decades, in part because of ALPACT's work over the last ten years. That's why it's so important to encourage a continued commitment to communication and collaboration between law enforcement agencies and community organizations. I recognize that this dialogue will not always be easy. We won't always agree. Incidents will tend to divide us. But our law enforcement efforts will be more successful -- and our communities will be safer -- if we in law enforcement work closely with those we serve and if those communities cooperate with us.

I saw this first hand when I served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. And I am committed to supporting meaningful community engagement by law enforcement as Attorney General.

But candid communication alone isn't enough. The communities we serve must see our commitment to the impartial enforcement of our nation's laws -- every day. Our communities must know that we enforce the laws that protect our civil rights with the same vigor that we enforce the laws that protect our public safety. I can assure you that under my leadership, the Department of Justice will enforce all of our nation's laws, with equal conviction.

I recently welcomed Tom Perez back to the Justice Department to lead our Civil Rights Division. I know that Tom shares this commitment. I have charged Tom with restoring the Division to its traditional role -- and its proper place -- as the nation's preeminent civil rights law-enforcement agency. I have also charged Tom with preparing the Civil Rights Division to confront the emerging civil rights challenges of the Twenty-First Century.

I am confident that Tom is the right person for this job. I am also certain that those of you who work closely with the Civil Rights Division will find him an able and committed partner. Our work is already underway. Since I returned to the Justice Department in January, the Civil Rights Division has taken important steps to reinvigorate its traditional enforcement efforts.

In September, we obtained the third guilty plea in the burning of the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tennessee. Three men spray-painted swastikas and the words "white power" on the walls of the mosque, and then burned it to the ground. These three men will be sentenced over the coming weeks, and each faces up to 30 years in prison.

Earlier this month, the Civil Rights Division announced the largest settlement of a Fair Housing Act rental case in Justice Department history. A landlord in Los Angeles agreed to pay almost $3 million in damages for discriminating against African-American families, Latino families, and families with children. We cannot allow this kind of discrimination to persist in our nation's housing markets and this Department of Justice is committed to ending it.

I know how seriously the foreclosure crisis has affected Michigan -- and especially Southeastern Michigan. Across the country, many communities of color have been hit particularly hard, in some cases because of discriminatory lending practices. The Civil Rights Division is committed to working with our partners in the federal government and state and local governments to root out fair lending violations such as redlining, price discrimination, and the steering of qualified minority applicants to sub-prime mortgages.

I know that the first few meetings of ALPACT, more than a decade ago now, were devoted to the issue of racial profiling. I understand how important this issue is and how discrimination can leave a lasting mark on communities and individuals.

Years ago, as a college student, I was driving from New York to Washington. An officer stopped me and asked me to open the trunk of my car because, he said, he wanted to search it for weapons. I did it. It's been years since then. But I still remember how humiliated I felt -- how angry -- as I got back in the car and continued on my journey. My story is not a unique one. So I am pleased to tell you that earlier this year, I requested an internal review of the Department's Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies. Racial profiling is not good law enforcement.

The vast majority of law enforcement officers serve their communities honorably every day. They sacrifice for us and their work makes all of us safer. The Justice Department will not allow discrimination by a few departments to tarnish unfairly the work done by many other fine departments. But neither will we tolerate discrimination by anyone who has sworn an oath to protect each and every member of the public.

My friends, the Department's commitment to the protection of civil rights has never been stronger. Likewise, the Justice Department has never been more committed to meaningful engagement with the communities we serve. But as I said earlier -- the dialogue between law enforcement agencies and our nation's communities won't always be easy but it must always be mutual.

In particular, the dialogue between law enforcement and those in the Muslim and Arab-American communities has been tested in recent weeks -- by events here in Michigan and far away. Our resolve must not waver. We must renew our commitment to open communication, even when we disagree. And we must work together to ensure that our collaboration can continue. The well being of our communities depends on it. And the people we serve are entitled to expect no less.

Let me be clear. The Department of Justice is completely committed to the protection of our national security. Due to the vigilance of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, we have uncovered and averted a number of serious threats to domestic and international security. Recent arrests in New York, Chicago, Springfield, and Dallas, are evidence of our success in identifying nascent plots and stopping would-be attackers before they strike.

We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt potential attacks. And we will prosecute those who plan them to the fullest extent of the law.

As Attorney General, I have no greater responsibility than this and I do not apologize for it. But I also have a responsibility to ensure the fair application of our nation's laws and constitutional protections. There is no contradiction between the two. I embrace both those duties.

I shared the outrage that all Americans felt in the aftermath of the massacre at Fort Hood. And I stand with those in the Muslim and Arab-American community who condemned it in the strongest possible terms. Extremism in any form is a threat to us all. Terrorism does not respect any boundaries or innocents.

But in the face of this atrocity, we must not forget that virtually all Muslims and Arab-Americans are leading fulfilling, honorable lives -- working hard, raising their children, loving their families, and supporting their communities.

Over the last nine months, I have heard from Muslims and Arab-Americans who feel uneasy about their relationship with our government, who feel isolated and discriminated against by law enforcement. Some of them have told me that they feel denied the full rights of citizenship and also -- just as important -- denied the responsibilities of citizenship. This is intolerable.

No American should feel denied the protections of our Constitution or the government created under it. The tension that arises among citizens of different faiths, and between government and citizens of a particular faith, is unacceptable. It is inconsistent with what America is all about. We are all Americans no matter the color of our skin, no matter the country of our families' origins, and no matter how we worship. We all have certain inalienable rights- coupled with civic responsibilities.

That is why we at the Justice Department are committed to pursuing and prosecuting those who commit bias-motivated violence against Muslims or Arab-Americans on the basis of religion or national origin. And we are committed to working with our partners in state and local law enforcement agencies to assist their investigation and prosecution of these hate crimes.

We are committed to protecting the rights of all Americans -- including Muslims -- to practice their religion without discrimination whether it be in the workplace or at school. This is not blind adherence to political correctness- it is devotion to our founding documents.

The Department of Justice is committed to working in common cause with Muslims and Arab-Americans to make all of our communities safer and more secure. We must do so in a manner that reflects our common values. Respecting civil liberties and the rule of law does not weaken us or make our homeland less secure. Rather, respecting these fundamental values builds the trust necessary for effective communications and partnerships between governments and communities, the essential conditions for our collective security.

We are a nation of immigrants. This is our country's greatest strength. Some Americans came seeking a better life. Some arrived in bondage. Regardless, virtually all of us can trace our ancestry to some other place. There can be no "us" and "them" among American citizens. Law enforcement must continue working to ensure that members of the Muslim and Arab-American communities are treated as no less "American" than any other community. And my friends Muslim and Arab Americans must continue to work with us.

This city has faced challenging times before. The challenge we face today provides us with an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to our nation's most cherished ideals, and to prove that they can make us safer, not more vulnerable; that they can bring us together, not divide us. Let us seize this opportunity together. I look forward to working with you all. Thank you.