The July 2016 death of Alton Sterling at the hands of two Baton Rouge police officers and the subsequent decision by the Louisiana Attorney General and Department of Justice to not prosecute these officers added new chapters to the long, troubled history between local law enforcement and the city’s minority communities. For many Baton Rouge residents, these are not seen as isolated instances of injustice. Rather, they are part of the systemic pattern of law enforcement misconduct in interactions with marginalized communities that had gone unacknowledged for far too long. Others in the community, though, believe the officers acted reasonably under the circumstances. They view the ensuing civil protests, like other criticism of the police, as largely unjustified.
In order to help mediate this tension, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law partnered with the Dialogue on Race Louisiana, the LSU Law Center’s George W. and Jean H. Pugh Institute for Justice, and the Southern University Law Center. Together, we launched the Dialogue on Race and Policing Series. A carefully selected cross-section of law enforcement leaders, social justice activists and civil rights leaders, academic experts, and other Baton Rouge public officials are convening this June for three structured discussions on race and the administration of criminal justice.
Through readings and structured conversations on the racial history of policing, Dialogue participants will deepen their understanding of how the criminal justice system has been greatly influenced by many of our most entrenched issues, including racial discrimination.
The participants will then return to their home communities to reflect on the discussions. In mid-July, they will reconvene for a half-day collaboration to produce a Plan of Action. In an interactive working session, they will determine next steps each represented organization can take to enhance public safety and build trust between police and their communities.
This initiative recognizes and respects the pain Mr. Sterling’s family and the greater Baton Rouge community continue to experience after his tragic death. The Dialogues will shed light on the disproportionate rates in which African-Americans and other marginalized communities are currently incarcerated. By dispelling common assumptions, participants will learn to critically examine the complex ways that race shapes the structures of our institutions.
The Lawyers’ Committee fights for equal justice in the courts as well as through organizing spaces of understanding and reconciliation. With the launch of the Dialogue on Race and Policing, the Lawyers’ Committee is creating a replicable platform in which the history of race and law enforcement can be discussed dispassionately, respecting but suspending the impulsive reactions that frequently impede conversations on these issues.