Attorney General Eric Holder has condemned the unknown assailant who shot two police officers overnight in Ferguson, Mo., as a "punk who was trying to sow discord" and said he hoped the "disgusting and cowardly attack" would not unravel the progress the community is making to restore trust in the police and the municipal courts there.
At a news conference in Washington, Holder announced the latest steps in his campaign to restore trust in law enforcement, including six pilot sites to test strategies for strengthening bonds between citizens and police. Those sites are Birmingham, Ala.; Stockton, Calif.; Gary, Ind.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Fort Worth, Texas.
The pilot programs are intended to facilitate racial reconciliation, reduce implicit bias in policing, and affirm the idea of procedural justice — that the way law enforcement officers treat people in everyday interactions is as important as the outcome of those interactions, such as arrests and convictions.
"There's research that suggests that when people feel like they were treated respectfully by the police, that goes a long way towards community trust, regardless of the outcome," said Nancy LaVigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, which will conduct research as part of the federal grant.
Holder, who is likely to retire after six years in office as early as next week, when the Senate votes on his successor, said his efforts on policing in no way were intended to cast all law enforcement officers in a negative light.
"My brother's a retired law enforcement officer and he always tells me that cops have the right to come home at night, you know?" Holder said.
He said authorities in Missouri will have the full support and resources of the federal government as they investigate the shooting near the Ferguson Police Department. The officers who were shot have been released from the hospital.
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And among those condemning the shooting of the two police officers was Attorney General Eric Holder. He says he hopes the ambush won't threaten efforts to heal the breach between law enforcement and minorities in the area. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The attorney general said the attack on law enforcement officers turned his stomach.
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ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson. This was - this was a damn punk - punk - who was trying to sow discord in an area that is trying to get its act together and trying to bring together a community that has been fractured for too long.
JOHNSON: Eric Holder said Ferguson and many other communities are struggling to believe in law enforcement.
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HOLDER: Incidents like the one we have witnessed throw into sharp relief why, you know, conversations to build trust between law enforcement and the communities that they serve are really so important.
JOHNSON: He announced a pilot project to do just that, bringing experts on policing to six cities. They're Birmingham, Ala., Fort Worth, Texas, Minneapolis, Minn., Pittsburgh, Pa., Stockton, Calif. and Gary, Ind. The federally-funded program is designed to pave the way toward racial reconciliation by acknowledging a long history of bias. Nancy La Vigne of the Urban Institute is working on the project.
NANCY LA VIGNE: In those communities, you have a very intensive police presence. And to many who live there, it feels like more oppression rather than support.
JOHNSON: La Vigne says law enforcement can make a big difference by focusing not just on the law but on how they treat people. That's a concept called procedural justice.
LA VIGNE: There's this saying in the policing community about how something can be lawful but awful.
JOHNSON: Even if people end up being arrested after a traffic stop, she says, they'll have a better opinion of law enforcement as long as officers explain what they're doing and treat them with respect. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.