Community Organizing and Advocacy Impacts DOJ Pattern or Practice Investigations

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By Aadika Singh

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) deserves credit for completing investigations and releasing findings of discriminatory policing in Maricopa County, Ariz., Seattle, Wash. and East Haven, Conn., but the DOJ didn’t initiate or complete these investigations in a vacuum. Advocacy organizations and community-based groups in each of those areas played a significant role in drawing attention to civil rights violations and are now engaged in campaigns to implement DOJ recommendations related to the findings.

In Washington, the Justice Department found that the Seattle Police Departmenthas engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the Constitution and federal law. Community organizations in Washington know that the issuance of a DOJ report on its own without advocacy won’t do anything to correct Seattle Police Department practices, so 35 organizations in Washington, including the ACLU of Washington and OneAmerica, drew media attention to DOJ’s recommendations and pushed for implementation of the report's reccommendations as this YouTube videoshows.

In Connecticut, the Department of Justice found that the East Haven Police Departmentengages in a pattern or practice of discriminatory policing against Latinos. This investigation was initiated in partthanks to concerted research, advocacy and organizing by community members and students and faculty at Yale Law School. And in Arizona, the Justice Department found reasonable cause to believe that the Maricopa County Sherriff’s Office(MCSO), under the leadership of Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio, has engaged in a pattern or practice of misconduct that violates the Constitution and federal law—a fact well known by community groups and advocacy organizations in the state who have been publicly expressing their concerns for years and have sought to terminate MCSO’s participation in federal immigration enforcement efforts. Following the release of the findings from Maricopa County, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) terminated MCSO’s 287(g) Agreement.The Secure Communities program remains operational in Maricopa County but DHS has restricted MCSO’s access to the program and community groups remain engaged in efforts to further restrict MCSO’s participation in immigration enforcement.

For information on DOJ pattern or practice investigations and the role community members and advocacy organizations can play, check out RWG’s fact sheet.