The Department of Justice announced Thursday that it is opening a civil rights investigation into whether the Phoenix Police Department engages in discriminatory practices against minorities, homeless people and those with disabilities. It is also examining the use of excessive force and abuse of protesters, according to the New York Times.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, said the decision to open the case was based on reviews of court documents and public records. During his announcement of the investigation, Garland said that police are often called upon to address a wide range of issues that are out of the scope of their job duties.
“Our society is straining the policing profession by turning to law enforcement to address a wide array of social problems,” Garland said, the Times reports. “Too often, we ask law enforcement officers to be the first and last option for addressing issues that should not be handled by our criminal justice system. This makes police officers’ jobs more difficult, increases unnecessary confrontations with law enforcement and hinders public safety.”
Here is more about the inquiry, per the Times:
The Phoenix Police Department, which is among the 10 largest in the country, has a history of mistreatment of minorities and disabled people. One of the department’s officers admitted to pushing a blind man to the ground in a convenience store bathroom in 2018 after the officer said the man came too close to him. A scuffle ensued, and the police arrested the blind man and charged him with a felony. The department also had a spate of officer-involved shootings in 2018.
The investigation is part of the Biden administration’s emphasis on oversight of the country’s police departments, which have come under immense scrutiny in recent years. Mr. Garland has also announced inquiries into the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments after the high-profile killings last year of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Such investigations often lead to court-approved agreements between the Justice Department and local governments that are intended to enhance police training and oversight.
Phoenix’s mayor, Kate Gallego, said she welcomed the investigation. “The recommendations that will result from this review will assist us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city,” she said in a statement.
During the Trump presidency, his administration’s DOJ curbed investigations into police abuse and pretty much took a pro-police stance during his four years in office. In 2017, he encouraged cops not to be “too nice” with suspects and seemed to encourage cops roughing up journalists. You get the point. Trump didn’t care about police brutality and even found it to be perfectly fine.
The DOJ inquiry could not come at a better time. Earlier this year, a special team from the Phoenix Police Department celebrated the shooting of a protester they shot in the groin by selling challenge coins. The coins had the phrases, “GOOD NIGHT LEFT NUT” and “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN ONE NUT AT A TIME.”
We all know that DOJ inquiries do not result in cops ceasing to kill us, but at least this is a step in the right direction.