Rep. Gutierrez Testifies Before Senate Subcommittee on Civil and Human Rights

“Too many have faced profiling, subtle and explicit…and…potentially dangerous when the profiler has a badge and a gun,” said Rep. Gutiérrez

Washington, DC –-(ENEWSPF)–December 9, 2014.  Today, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.  The hearing, “The State of Civil and Human Rights in the United States (link to streaming video),” also included testimony from Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota on the panel with Rep. Gutiérrez.  A second panel included Dr. Cedric Alexander, President, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and Public Safety Director of DeKalb County, Georgia; Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; and Laura Murphy, Director of Washington Legislative Office of the ACLU.

In Rep. Gutiérrez’ testimony, he discussed racial profiling and the “vicious cycle” that has played out on a national stage where people, especially young people of color, are killed by the police, but the judicial system does not appear to respond adequately.  He said, “Too many have faced profiling, subtle and explicit, annoying, and yes, potentially dangerous when the profiler has a badge and a gun.”

The Congressman also commented on newly released Department of Justice guidelines on racial profiling saying “I am disappointed they did not close significant loopholes, especially as they pertain to the Department of Homeland Security… also perplexed and disheartened that the new guidance applies only to federal agents, but exempts local, county, and state law enforcement.”

The Congressman’s complete testimony as prepared for delivery follows.

Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez represents the Fourth District of Illinois, is a Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, and is the Chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

TESTIMONY — CONGRESSMAN LUIS V. GUTIÉRREZ

Thank you, Chairman Durbin, for inviting me to testify at this hearing regarding the current state of civil and human rights in the United States, and thank you for advocating for justice and equality.  I have always valued your advice and counsel.  Your leadership on the Judiciary Committee and as Chairman of this Subcommittee has contributed greatly to our nation and to protecting the civil rights of all of us. 

Before I begin, I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  I think we can all agree that the loss of life is a grave tragedy.  As a parent, I especially want to say to the parents, that I am so sorry for your loss.

In the wake of the grand jury decisions to not indict the officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, communities throughout the country have taken to the streets to protest.  Many are deeply dissatisfied with the decisions not to prosecute the police officers in Ferguson and Staten Island and transparently examine their actions and the circumstances that lead to the deaths of two unarmed black men.  The protests also expose an equally disturbing issue—that the killings of Brown and Garner are not isolated incidents.

I believe the visceral reaction around the country is because these cases represent the countless young men who are treated unjustly by the police and many question their ability to receive justice through the courts.  These deaths exposed gaps in our criminal justice system, in particular, the grand jury process and the inherent conflict in bringing charges against law enforcement.  Clearly we have more work to do to build trust between communities and law enforcement and our system of justice. 

African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system overall.  Racial profiling, condoned officially and unofficially by some in law enforcement, forces blacks and Latinos to contend with the criminal justice system more frequently and in a completely different way than many others in society.  Minority communities have a higher prosecution rate, and at the post-conviction stage sentencing orders tend to be harsher among minority defendants.  All too often, Latinos and blacks are victims of excessive use of force at the hands of rogue police officers. The issue is only exacerbated when local and state police departments are equipped with military equipment, as was the case in Ferguson, Missouri this past summer. 

The cycle continues, as we saw just last week, when Grand Juries, guided by prosecutors who work on a daily basis with the police, fail to even call for a trial in open court.  It is not surprising that the system breeds mistrust. 

This vicious cycle not only affects individuals but also harms our African-American and Latino communities as a whole.  When we see children like Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, we see our own families and loved ones.  Ask any Latino or African-American parent – whether they live in a suburb or in a housing project – and they will tell you they fear for their children’s safety every time they leave the house.  Rather than thinking of the police as public servants who will protect the safety of their children, too often they think of the local police as one of the hazards their children face.

I think of when my daughter was stopped because she was driving in “too nice a car” with her friends in her own neighborhood or when I was stopped coming into the Capitol complex earlier in my career because I didn’t “look like a Congressman.”  Too many have faced profiling, subtle and explicit, annoying, — and yes, potentially dangerous — when the profiler has a badge and a gun.

I respect and appreciate the hard work that law enforcement officers do to keep our communities safe.  We have worked to get more cops on the streets, to invest in violence reduction programs, to reduce the number of guns in our communities that often target cops and to make sure we honor and pay police officers for the dangerous and often thankless work they do. 

I am also a proud original cosponsor of the End Racial Profiling Act, which I think is clearly and sorely needed. 

With regard to the revised profiling guidelines issued yesterday by the Department of Justice, I am disappointed they did not close significant loopholes, especially as they pertain to the Department of Homeland Security, which will allow whole sections of America’s largest law enforcement entities, including Customs and Border Patrol and the Transportation Security Administration, to continue to profile many innocent Americans.  I am also perplexed and disheartened that the new guidance applies only to federal agents, but exempts local, county, and state law enforcement.

Civil and human rights today in America continues to be a work in progress.  Thanks to the leadership of Chairman Durbin and many of my colleagues, including those seated with me today, we are able to celebrate the strides we have made to create a more equal and just nation for all, and chart the course for continued progress in the future, but it is tempered by knowing that we cannot rest in the pursuit of justice and fairness, especially in the face of the tragic and needless loss of life.   Thank you again for the opportunity to testify.

Source: Gutierrez.house.gov