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WATCH: Sen. Jon Ossoff Raises Ahmaud Arbery Case to Biden AG Nominee, Secures Promise to Assess Civil Rights Protections & Reforms

Ossoff raised that tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder

Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff secured commitments from President Biden’s nominee for Attorney General, Judge Merrick Garland, to work with him on pursuing equal justice under the law and to work with Congress to determine what resources are necessary to bring more effective pattern or practice investigations when necessary. 

Sen. Ossoff asked Judge Garland how he will use the immense power of his office as Attorney General to make real America’s promise of Equal Justice for All, and Garland explain his commitments to ending mass incarceration, focusing less on more minor crimes like marijuana possession and focusing more on violent crimes, giving discretion to local prosecutors to ensure charges fit the crime and be proportional to the damage that it does to our society, and ending mandatory minimums.  

Sen. Ossoff also noted that tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia, and Sen. Ossoff asked Garland how Congress can equip the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to launch more and more effective pattern or practice investigations

Garland agreed to work with Sen. Ossoff to determine what resources he may require in order to be able to bring more and more effective pattern of practice investigations where appropriate and highlighted the importance of these investigations to bring action against possible civil rights abuses.

Please click here to watch Sen. Ossoff’s line of questioning.

Please find a transcript of the exchange below:

OSSOFF: Judge I want to ask you about equal justice. Black Americans continue to endure profiling, harassment, brutality, discrimination in policing and prosecution and sentencing and incarceration. How can you use the immense power of the Office of the Attorney General to make real America’s Promise of equal justice for all, and can you please be specific about the tools that you’ll have at your disposal?

GARLAND: This is a substantial part of why I wanted to be the Attorney General. I am deeply aware of the moment the country is in. When Senator Durbin was reading the statement of Robert Kennedy, it just hit me that we are in a similar moment to the moment he was in. So there are a lot of things that the department can do. One of the things has to do with the problem of mass incarceration. The over incarceration of American citizens and of its disproportionate effect on Black Americans and communities of color, and other minorities. 

“There are different ways in which we can try — that is disproportionate in the sense of both the population, but also given the data we have on the fact that crimes are not committed by these communities in any greater number than than in others, and that similar crimes are not charged in the same way. So we have to figure out ways to deal with this. 

“So one important way I think is to focus on the crimes that really matter, to bring our charging, and our arresting on violent crime and others that deeply affect our society, and not have such an overemphasis on marijuana possession, for example, which has disproportionately affected communities of color and then damage them far after the original arrests because of the inability to get jobs. 

“We have to look at our charging policies again and go back to the policy that I helped Janet Reno draft during her period and then Eric Holder drafted while he was the Attorney General, of not feeling that we must charge every offense to the maximum, that we don’t have to seek the highest possible offense with the highest possible sentence, that we should give discretion to our prosecutors to make the offense and the charge fit the crime and be proportional to the damage that it does to our society. 

“We should also look closely and be more sympathetic towards retrospective reductions in sentences, which the First Step Act has given us some opportunity, although not enough to reduce sentences to a fair amount, and legislatively we should look at equalizing, for example, what’s known as the crack powder ratio, which has had an enormously disproportionate impact on communities of color, but which evidence shows us is not related to the dangerousness of the of the two drugs. 

“And we should do as President Biden has suggested, seek the elimination of mandatory minimums, so that we once again give authority to district judges, trial judges, to make determinations based on all of the sentencing factors that judges normally apply and don’t take away from them the ability to do justice in individual cases all of that will make a big difference in the things that you’re talking about.”

OSSOFF: “Thank you, Judge Garland, and let’s discuss accountability for local agencies. The civil rights division has the authority to launch, pattern or practice investigations targeting systemic violations of constitutional rights or violations of federal statutes governing law enforcement. Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia, who was shot to death in broad daylight, in the street, on camera. But local authorities chose to look the other way, and were it not for the activism of Georgia’s NAACP, there likely would not have been any prosecution in that case. How can Congress equip DOJ’s civil rights division to launch more and more effective pattern or practice investigations without asking you to comment on the details of the Arbery case, and how else can the Department of Justice use its authority to ensure that where local agencies violate constitutional rights or fail to uphold the guarantee of equal protection, there’s accountability?”

GARLAND: Well, I appreciate it you’re not asking me to talk about a pending case. What I will say is that like many many Americans I was shocked by what I saw in videos of Black Americans being killed over this last summer. That, I do think, created a moment in the national life that brought attention from people who had not seen what Black Americans and other members of communities of color had known for decades, but it did bring everything to the fore and created a moment in which we have an opportunity to make dramatic changes and really bring forth equal justice under the law which is our commitment of the Justice Department. 

“So the Civil Rights Division is the place where we focus these operations. You’re exactly right, that pattern or practice investigations are the core of our ability to bring actions here, that these lead to all different kinds of remedies sometimes consent decrees as a potential remedy. 

“We also can criminally prosecute violations of constitutional rights. And we can also provide funding for police departments to reform themselves. I do believe that officers who follow the law in the constitution want that accountability, they want officers who do not, to become accountable, because if if that doesn’t happen, their a law enforcement agency is tainted, they lose the credibility in the community, and without the community’s trust they can’t bring safety. So we have this number of tools, whether we need additional tools in this particular area, I don’t know, obviously the resources are necessary, probably going to be like a broken record in every one of these areas for us to do our job.”

OSSOFF: “Judge Garland, with my time so short, will you commit to working with my office and with this committee to determine what additional authorities the department may need and what resources you may require in order to be able to bring more and more effective pattern of practice investigations where appropriate?”

GARLAND: “Absolutely Senator, I’m sorry to have gone on.”

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