The U.S. must work to narrow the gap between law enforcement and some black communities as the nation grapples with fatal incidents involving police officers and unarmed victims, said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
“We have to ask ourselves some fundamental questions about the lack of trust that exists between some communities and the law-enforcement officers who serve those communities,” Holder said in Chicago on Friday before a roundtable discussion with local officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The visit is Holder’s fourth stop on a nationwide tour to address criticism of heavy-handed policing. It comes after mass demonstrations in cities across the U.S. the past few weeks to protest the use of deadly force by police against unarmed black men.
In August, a white officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and a month before in New York, an officer used a fatal chokehold on Eric Garner, a black man suspected of selling single untaxed cigarettes. Local grand juries declined to indict the officers involved, and the U.S. Justice Department is conducting civil-rights investigations of both incidents.
The deaths of Brown and Garner “have brought to the surface some hugely important concerns about race, about disparity in treatment, about use of force, and ultimately about trust,” U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon said before introducing Holder.
President Barack Obama is focused on those issues, Holder said. He cited the president’s proposal to help local police departments purchase body cameras and other measures to help “narrow this gap” in communities.
“If we are successful in this effort of talking about these issues forthrightly, we can ensure community trust,” said Holder, the first black attorney general. That will keep police safer in the long run, he said.
About two dozen people, including local pastors and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, took part in the meeting with Holder. The discussion was closed to the media after the opening remarks.
Holder issued new guidelines that expand restrictions on racial and other forms of profiling by federal law-enforcement officers.