Transcript

Policing the Police 2020

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GEORGE FLOYD:

Please. Please! Please, I can’t breathe!

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Get up and get in the car!

GEORGE FLOYD:

I can’t move.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

I been waiting the whole day, man!

GEORGE FLOYD:

Mama!

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Just get up and get in the car!

GEORGE FLOYD:

Mama—

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Get up and get in the car right!

GEORGE FLOYD:

Mama. I can’t! Please. Please. Mama—

JELANI COBB, Correspondent:

The Minneapolis police had responded to a call that a man had tried to use a fake $20 bill at a corner store.

MALE VOICE:

You’re stopping his breathing right now, bro. You think that’s cool?

JELANI COBB:

They pulled him from his car. Put a knee on his neck.

MALE VOICE:

He’s not even resisting arrest right now, bro.

FEMALE VOICE:

His nose is bleeding.

JELANI COBB:

Some eight minutes later, George Floyd was dead.

MALE VOICE:

Is he breathing right now? Check his pulse!

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

I’m not going to have this conversation.

MALE VOICE:

Check his pulse!

JELANI COBB:

I watched the video at home in New York.

PROTEST MARCHERS [chanting]:

George Floyd! George Floyd!

JELANI COBB:

I watched the unrest in the streets. The outbursts of violence. And the president send in federal officers.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I am your president of law and order.

JELANI COBB:

All in the midst of a pandemic in which Black people have died at more than twice the rate of whites.

PROTEST MARCHERS [chanting]:

Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

JELANI COBB:

The angry tableau in the streets is a reckoning with the fact that in this country, race is a shorthand for a set of life probabilities.

CROWD [chanting]:

What’s his name? George Floyd! What’s his name? George Floyd!

JELANI COBB:

The odds are different in Black America. Of dying of COVID. Of being poor.

CROWD [chanting]:

No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!

JELANI COBB:

Of being incarcerated. Of being abused, or even killed, by the police.

CROWD [chanting]:

Don’t shoot! Hands up, don’t shoot! Hands up, don’t shoot!

JELANI COBB:

Six years ago, when I was covering the last uproar over police brutality for the New Yorker—

People have been out here now for 10 nights, 11 nights in a row.

—in Ferguson and Baltimore—

I’ve talked with young people here. There seems to have been really entrenched distrust for the police before.

—and at the dawn of the Black Lives Matter movement.

If you’re simply relying on the mechanisms of bureaucracy to function on your behalf, it’s not going to happen.

JELANI COBB:

I teamed up with FRONTLINE to report on what it would take for policing to ever be different.

I went to a place with a history of deep distrust between police and African Americans: Newark, New Jersey, a city that still bore the scars of a violent rebellion in 1967 after a white cop beat up a Black cab driver.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Race riots rocked New Jersey’s largest city, Newark, for five consecutive days and nights. At least 24 persons are killed.

JELANI COBB:

Five decades later, the problems persisted. When I arrived, the city had just been singled out by the Department of Justice for abusive and discriminatory policing, for routinely violating people’s civil rights.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—racial profiling—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Unconstitutional stops—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—stop and frisk, excessive force—

JELANI COBB:

Particularly Black people.

But Newark was also becoming a laboratory for ways to improve policing. The Justice Department had begun to mandate changes, and residents had recently elected a mayor who was a longtime advocate for police reform.

He was also an old friend of mine, Ras Baraka. We’d gone to college together. We’d been activists together. I wanted to know how he planned on changing things around here.

Hi, Mrs. Baraka, how are you? It is so good to see you.

His mother, Amina, answered the door on this visit in November of 2015.

I’ve been coming over here and sitting around and reading y'all’s books and eating your food and all that.

I'd visited the Baraka house many times over the years, first as a friend and classmate and then later as a young historian to interview his father, Amiri Baraka, who was a legendary poet and leader in the Black Power movement.

AMINA BARAKA:

Here comes the mayor, on time.

JELANI COBB:

That is amazing!

AMINA BARAKA:

Isn't it?

JELANI COBB:

Mayor Baraka.

We'd seen each other occasionally over the years—

Maybe we can sit down and start talking.

—but decades had passed since college.

—you came in ’86.

RAS J. BARAKA, Mayor, Newark, NJ:

’86.

JELANI COBB:

Everybody else said that you were wild. [laughs]

It was the start of a series of conversations we had about transforming policing. We began with a shared memory.

I’m pretty sure you remember this. In 1991, you, me, four other people, we were in Cortland, New York, to have activist retreat. We decide that we're going to go hike up this mountain.

RAS J. BARAKA:

[laughs]

JELANI COBB:

And six of us walking down this road, and there’s a police car for each of us. They want us up against the cars. That experience, in some ways, it was formative. Like, this is the function—

RAS J. BARAKA:

Of the police.

JELANI COBB:

Of the police.

RAS J. BARAKA:

I remember I didn't go back outside, either. That was—it's crazy. That was just a crazy situation. But all of those kind of incidents—growing up as a Black boy in Newark, you get thrown on the wall, you get searched, you get put on the ground. Those kinds of things I went through regularly as a kid. You think their job is to come and disrupt and cause havoc, almost. And the real dichotomy of that is that we still thought that they should be doing their job in the community at the same time, right? If something happen, you call the police. So, it’s like you’re stuck.

JELANI COBB:

We’ve talked about those formative experiences that we had as young people. And then you come home and become involved in politics. Was it an idea that policing could be different? That this was something that there was a means of changing it?

RAS J. BARAKA:

What the police’s function is in the community, how they relate to the community, all of those things I think can be changed. It’s difficult and it’s a heavy lift, but I would rather be involved in a process of doing that than sitting around being the victim of it.

JELANI COBB:

Baraka had only been in power for a short time, but he was already taking big steps to transform the relationship between the police and the community.

MALE PROTEST LEADER:

No justice!

CROWD:

No peace!

MALE PROTEST LEADER:

No justice!

CROWD:

No peace!

JELANI COBB:

For years—

CITY OF NEWARK COUNCILWOMAN:

Welcome to the Newark Municipal Council’s public meeting.

JELANI COBB:

—people in Newark had been calling for civilian oversight of the police.

MALE NEWARK RESIDENT:

I've been robbed by the cops, I done been assaulted by the cops.

FEMALE NEWARK RESIDENT:

I’ve been a victim of them more than once. I’ve been the victim of retaliation after reporting police abuses.

JELANI COBB:

And in 2016—

CITY OF NEWARK COUNCILWOMAN:

Motion to close the public hearing.

JELANI COBB:

—Baraka helped pushed the idea through the city council—

CITY OF NEWARK COUNCILWOMAN 2:

Unanimously, yes.

JELANI COBB:

—creating a uniquely powerful civilian review board with the power to subpoena and recommend discipline.

But that vote was just a first step. And at the time, there was concern and opposition among the police rank and file.

I wanted to understand their perspective, to see firsthand what policing looked like in a poor city long plagued by violence.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Details this morning in a double shooting—

MALE NEWSREADER:

A string of murders in Newark, 10 of them in as many days.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

—and violent crime in general has risen to more than 3,000 incidents annually.

JELANI COBB:

—and to see for myself what the mayor and Justice Department were trying to change.

MALE POLICE OFFICER 1:

We had a gun robbery at 12:30 hours. 49 Fairview Avenue. The victim, Mr. Stokes, previously classified G-Shine, Blood gang member. Fairview Homes, we will ride by and monitor that location.

JELANI COBB:

I went out with the gang unit—back then one of the department’s most problematic divisions. They were notorious for their aggressive tactics trying to get guns off the street. In Newark, most of the victims and perpetrators were Black and Latino.

MALE POLICE OFFICER 2:

Good to see you.

MALE POLICE OFFICER 3:

Likewise, likewise.

JELANI COBB:

So were most of the cops.

MALE POLICE OFFICER 4:

Ready? Come on, Slim!

MALE POLICE OFFICER 5:

All right, son.

JELANI COBB:

One night, I rode with Ricardo Reillo, a former truck driver, and Wilberto Ruiz, an Air Force vet, both from Newark.

POLICE RADIO DISPATCHER:

[chatter]

DET. WILBERTO RUIZ, Newark PD:

Where’s he at, you see him? He out right there.

Come here. Come here, man.

JELANI COBB:

The officers said they were out there hunting for guns, drugs and intelligence about gang rivalries.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

You guys don’t know anything about the shootings going on down here?

MAN ON STREET:

No, I don't know nothing.

JELANI COBB:

They were conducting what they called “field inquiries.”

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

See your hands. Let's see your hands.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Something in your pants, man?

YOUNG MAN:

No, sir.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

So then why are you shaking like that?

JELANI COBB:

Basically stopping and frisking.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Are you a drug user?

JELANI COBB:

So what I’m trying to understand is, how does the decision get made to say, “OK, we need to stop that person,” or “We need to do a field inquiry with that person”?

DET. RICARDO REILLO, Newark PD:

You as an officer, you eventually build certain skills. You start learning how to read people, their body language. If one person doesn't want to take his hands out of his pockets, starts pulling away from you. Obviously, if he starts running. [laughs]

WILBERTO RUIZ:

You know, more or less, when you pass them and they give you that look, you know.

JELANI COBB:

Police are supposed to have what’s called "reasonable suspicion" to stop someone, not just a hunch. There’s room for discretion.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

We just want to make sure you're all right.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

You want to step off?

JELANI COBB:

But in its report on Newark, the Justice Department had found that police were stopping people without legal justification roughly 75% of the time.

TEENAGE BOY:

He only 10 years old, man. This is my little brother, yo.

RICARDO REILLO:

Relax, my man. How old are you?

TEENAGE BOY:

Thirteen.

RICARDO REILLO:

All right. So what you—

TEENAGE BOY:

My little brother don't need to be talking to you.

RICARDO REILLO:

Keep walking. Keep walking.

That’s what we have to deal with in the city of Newark, 13-year-olds talking back to police.

JELANI COBB:

Do you think he was justified to be worried about his brother?

RICARDO REILLO:

Oh, absolutely. But he sees who we are. We’re police. He shouldn’t be afraid of police.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Spread your feet apart.

JELANI COBB:

As troubling as all this appeared to me—

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Right there. Right there. Right there, right there!

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Get off the car! He dropped it! Get off the damn car!

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

I got it, we got it. We got the weapon! We got the weapon! Cuff him!

JELANI COBB:

—almost every night we were out with the gang unit, they got a gun off the streets.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Welcome to the FBI, pal. [laughs]

JELANI COBB:

At the end of one night, I talked to Officers Ruiz and Reillo about what I’d been seeing.

I’m just going to ask you straight out. Is it possible to make the communities that we’re talking about safe while respecting people’s constitutional rights?

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Without a doubt. We go out there every night, we don't—

JELANI COBB:

But the DOJ doesn’t feel like that’s what’s happened here.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

That’s an opinion. I mean, we go out there—it’s not any disrespect to anybody out there. It’s not about race, or violating their rights. It has nothing to do with that. We have a job to do. We live in this city. We care about this city. This is what we do.

JELANI COBB:

I have to tell you something, though, all right? So I grew up in Queens, and on—my first experience with police was that I was thrown up against a mailbox just like this one. I was coming home from a baseball game, had my uniform on, was carrying a bat and a glove. The guy said it was a crime that was committed, and so on, and I was kind of like, “I’m coming from a game.” The next experience I had was a few years later. I was walking with a group of friends of mine, and a cop pulled a gun on us and told us to get on the sidewalk.

RICARDO REILLO:

You could point your weapon at somebody and give them commands to comply. Once you feel like the threat’s neutralized, like they’re complying with you, then you put your weapon away, and—

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Have a normal interaction.

RICARDO REILLO:

Yeah, have a normal interaction.

JELANI COBB:

But can you really have a normal interaction if someone’s pointed a gun at you? I don’t—I don’t—

RICARDO REILLO:

You got to look at it our way. I mean, they say there was five, six males and one of them possibly has a weapon. What would you do as a police officer if you encounter a group of males, one supposedly has a weapon on him? How would you confront the situation?

JELANI COBB:

I’m not sure. But that’s why I asked the question about can you do this—can this be done in a way that still respects people’s rights? I think that’s the question that everybody is wondering about policing.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Listen, we try to go out there and respect everybody’s rights.

RICARDO REILLO:

Exactly.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

We’re not out here saying, “Hey, we’re going to violate this person’s rights.” That’s not what we’re here for. I tell you, our main objective is to go home at the end of the night.

JELANI COBB:

No matter what their critics said, or what the federal authorities found, these cops seemed to have no doubts about the way that they did their job. That was most clear to me in how they handled one particular stop.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Yo.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Yo.

YOUNG MAN:

Don’t touch me, brother. Don’t even touch me. Please don’t touch me. Hey, hold on! Hold up, hold up, hold up, hold up, hold up!

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Get on the f------ ground.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

What’re y’all doing?

YOUNG MAN:

I’m not doing nothing! I’m not doing nothing! Come on, man! Come on, come on, I'm not resisting you.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Stop. Listen, stop, stop. Stop, stop.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

You want to pull away from me, man, you’re going to get hurt.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Stop resisting.

YOUNG MAN:

Sir, I did not. I did not.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Stop, stop, stop!

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

All right, just cuff him for safety.

YOUNG MAN:

I did not resist y’all. I swear to God I did not resist y’all.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

All right, sir.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Stop. Stop. Stop.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Cuff him for safety.

YOUNG MAN:

[inaudible]

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Stop. Just stop.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Sir, you’re not under arrest.

YOUNG MAN:

OK.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Just for your safety and our safety.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

All right, bring him up to his feet.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Stand up, man. Why are you acting like a jerk, bro? We stopped you to f------ talk to you.

YOUNG MAN:

A jerk? Are you f------ kidding me?

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

You can’t pull away from a cop.

YOUNG MAN:

I didn’t pull away from nobody, bro.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Yes, you did, sir, because you pulled away from me.

YOUNG MAN:

Bro, I said, "Don’t touch me, please." Because y’all pulling up, what the f--- did I do? Nothing. I’m walking home.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

We’ll explain everything to you—

YOUNG MAN:

You don’t even know what the hell’s going—I’m going home.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Yeah, that’s why we’re stopping to talk to you.

YOUNG MAN:

I am going home.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Listen, listen, right here, right here—

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

When you start pulling away, it’s on.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Right here, right here, I’m talking to you.

YOUNG MAN:

I didn’t pull away from nobody!

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Look! Shh. Look, we ain’t going to do that.

YOUNG MAN:

My fault, man.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

If you want to do that, we could do that.

YOUNG MAN:

Do what?

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Listen. Where you live at? Do you understand the reason why you’re cuffed?

YOUNG MAN:

No.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

All right. Now, when we came and approached you, what did you do? You automatically pushed away from us.

YOUNG MAN:

No, I said, “Don’t touch me,” and kept walking.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Listen! Listen.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Listen, you’re making us think you have a weapon, the way you ran away.

YOUNG MAN:

Y’all going to worry about me? Oh, man.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

OK? Understand that.

YOUNG MAN:

OK.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Listen, just relax.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Relax.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

You got it? Find out who he is. Advise him.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

Turn around. We’re going to walk, OK? My man, it’s not wise to pull away from us like that, you hear?

YOUNG MAN:

My fault, man.

WILBERTO RUIZ:

All right?

YOUNG MAN:

The violence from police is crazy right now. And—and the way y’all approached me, all I was doing was walking home. If y’all would have said, “Young man, what are you doing?”

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

What are you doing today?

YOUNG MAN:

Going home.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

OK.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

See? You see how fast that was?

YOUNG MAN:

I don’t care about—do not stereotype, because that’s what y’all did to me.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Have a good day, sir.

YOUNG MAN:

Y’all be easy. And be wise about your choices, brother.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

Take that same advice, sir.

JELANI COBB:

The cops were supposed to write a report about that stop.

RICARDO REILLO:

Dinner of champions here.

JELANI COBB:

But when I later tried to get a copy, the department told me it had no record of it.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

This is lunch. About to shut it down, man.

JELANI COBB:

It spoke to a larger problem in Newark.

FEMALE EMPLOYEE:

I just need you to sign these files out.

JELANI COBB:

Thank you.

According to DOJ investigators, hundreds of allegations of illegal stops or excessive force, largely involving Black residents, had never been properly investigated or disciplined by the Newark PD. Many had not even been documented.

RAS J. BARAKA:

What’s going on? How you doing? Good, good, good, good.

JELANI COBB:

I talked to the mayor about what I’d been seeing.

How you doing? Yeah, yeah.

RAS J. BARAKA:

Just visiting the precincts, man, let him see people in here working.

JELANI COBB:

We met up one day while he was touring the city’s police precincts.

So we’ve been out with the gang unit. They’re going around and getting guns. Getting illegal guns requires you rolling up on folk.

RAS J. BARAKA:

Yeah.

JELANI COBB:

How does that happen without being the same sorts of policing that people are protesting about?

RAS J. BARAKA:

Intelligence. Who is actually somebody you should probably stop, and somebody who’s just Miss Martha’s kid going to the store with his hat to the back, right? I mean, that’s—intelligence gets you that information, not just random stops. That’s not how you police. I mean, that right there is racism.

JELANI COBB:

But these are Black and brown cops.

RAS J. BARAKA:

Yeah, so what?

JELANI COBB:

Diverse police officer—police force.

RAS J. BARAKA:

It’s not the "who did it" that make it racism. To me, it is the fact that, overwhelmingly, it happens to one specific group of people is what makes it racism. It becomes systemic and most of the problems come from units like that.

JELANI COBB:

Mmm hmm.

RAS J. BARAKA:

They believe that everybody must be a gang member. I’m going to grab you, and—it’s wrong, it’s unconstitutional.

JELANI COBB:

Not long after we spoke, the gang unit was disbanded, and one of the officers we rode with, Wilberto Ruiz, was fired following multiple complaints against him.

RAS J. BARAKA:

You need the right people doing this type of stuff. You can't have—

JELANI COBB:

At the same time, the mayor was welcoming the DOJ’s help to fix the systemic problems here.

A lack of resources and expertise—and the friction of local politics—have long made it difficult for cities like Newark to reform their own police departments.

That’s why, more than 25 year ago, Congress gave the Department of Justice extraordinary powers to police local police departments.

It happened in the wake of the infamous beating of Rodney King by four white cops in LA.

JUDGE STANLEY WEISBERG:

Not guilty of the crime of assault by force—

JELANI COBB:

When the officers were acquitted—

MAN ON STREET:

You f------ piece of s--- pig! I hope you burn in hell!

JELANI COBB:

—the city exploded. Congress decided to act—

SEN. DANIEL AKAKA (D-Hawaii):

The Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act is adopted.

JELANI COBB:

—adding a provision to the 1994 crime bill that gave the Department of Justice the power to investigate local police departments and force them to reform.

VANITA GUPTA, U.S. Asst. Atty. General, Civil Rights Div., 2014-17:

Congress thought it was important for the Justice Department to have a way to really address and engage systemic reform in police departments around the country.

JELANI COBB:

Vanita Gupta ran the civil rights division of the Justice Department under President Obama.

VANITA GUPTA:

We are here today to announce a landmark settlement agreement between the Justice Department and the city of Albuquerque.

—an exhaustive review of the Cleveland Division of Police.

—the challenges related to policing in the city of Baltimore.

JELANI COBB:

The office used its power aggressively, opening 25 new investigations into law enforcement agencies for civil rights violations. All but a few ended up in agreements to carry out reforms. Many of those were court-enforced “consent decrees.”

How effective have these decrees been?

VANITA GUPTA:

So they've been really effective, and look, they're not—the net result of our work in a police department does not result in a perfect police department, and I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect police department. But we have seen in police departments over and over again, small and big, that even where there's deeply entrenched discriminatory policing or problems with use of force or lack of accountability, that those are changeable over time.

JELANI COBB:

On the day we spoke in 2016, Gupta was in Newark to sign the consent decree between the city and the Justice Department.

VANITA GUPTA:

I now stand before you to announce this agreement that holds the potential to make Newark a national model for constitutional, effective—

JELANI COBB:

The agreement would force the city to spend millions of dollars to write new policies, train officers and overhaul the department’s disciplinary system.

VANITA GUPTA:

—and I know that together we're going to be able to write a new chapter for the police officers of Newark and the communities that they serve. Thank you.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The city of Newark, New Jersey, agreed today to reform the way its police treat minorities.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

From now on, officers’ actions, their use of force and investigations will be closely watched.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—revise its search-and-seizure policy, in-car and body-worn cameras, collect data on all uses of force and create a civilian oversight entity.

JELANI COBB:

As reforms got underway in Newark, and the Obama administration continued pushing through an unprecedented number of consent decrees—

DONALD TRUMP:

Friends—

JELANI COBB:

—an entirely different view of race and policing was about to take hold in Washington.

DONALD TRUMP:

The war on our police must end and it must end now.

JELANI COBB:

Donald Trump was on his way to victory.

CROWD:

[applause] Trump! Trump! Trump!

JELANI COBB:

And from the very beginning of his presidency—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear—

JELANI COBB:

—investigating police departments for civil rights violations was no longer a priority. Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, spelled it out.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. Attorney General, 2017-18:

I've made clear that this Department of Justice will not sign consent decrees that will cost lives by handcuffing the police rather than handcuffing the criminals.

JELANI COBB:

Christy, how are you?

CHRISTY E. LOPEZ, Chief Dep., DOJ Civil Rights Div., 2010-17:

I’m fine, how are you doing?

JELANI COBB:

Good. Thank you for taking the time to talk today.

I recently spoke remotely with Christy Lopez, who oversaw the DOJ’s police investigations during the Obama administration.

CHRISTY E. LOPEZ:

There was this narrative that many were trying to paint that these consent decrees were this radical thing that were happening, and they were not. They really were simply meant to keep police departments from systematically violating people's rights.

JELANI COBB:

Lopez left the department right before Jeff Sessions took over.

May 2018, Jeff Sessions said, "At the end of the previous administration, many of you came to believe that some of the political leadership of this country had abandoned you," speaking to a police officers' group. "Some radicals and politicians—"

JEFF SESSIONS:

Some radicals and politicians began to unfairly malign and blame police as a whole for the crimes and unacceptable deeds of a few.

JELANI COBB:

"—unacceptable deeds of a few." And he then goes on to say, "Let me say this loud and clear—"

JEFF SESSIONS:

Let me say this loud and clear, as long as I am attorney general of the United States, the Department of Justice will have the back of all honest and honorable law enforcement officers. [applause]

JELANI COBB:

What were you thinking as this was happening, as all this was unfolding?

CHRISTY E. LOPEZ:

I was thinking, "This man is living in the last century, if not two centuries back, and this man knows nothing about policing." Because I think he cares about police but I don't think he realized how what he was advocating for actually hurts police along with Black people and Latinx people.

JELANI COBB:

How so? How does this hurt Black people, Latinx people?

CHRISTY E. LOPEZ:

If you tell police that the previous administration was abandoning you because they were insisting that you comport yourself consistently with the Constitution, then you are telling police that they have a right to police without comporting themselves to the Constitution.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Please don’t be too nice. [laughter] Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, the way you put their hand over—? Don’t hit their head, and they’ve just killed somebody—don’t hit their head. I said, "You can take the hand away, OK?" [laughter and applause]

JELANI COBB:

Since President Trump came into office, he has signed two executive orders aimed at improving policing, but the Justice Department has initiated only one new investigation of a police department and unsuccessfully tried to end pending agreements in Baltimore and Chicago.

The Justice Department and former Attorney General Sessions declined our repeated requests for an interview. The DOJ pointed us to public statements of the current attorney general, William Barr.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. Attorney General:

I think that there are instances of bad cops. And I think we have to be careful about automatically assuming that the actions of an individual necessarily mean that their organization is rotten.

JELANI COBB:

There are people who say that these are systemic problems and there are people who say that this is just the work of a few bad apples.

CHRISTY E. LOPEZ:

I think the fact that those bad apples are allowed to remain on police forces, even after they've killed people and after they've been harming people, sometimes for decades, or go to other police departments and do the same thing, indicates to us that the problem is not just with these "bad apple" officers. There are systemic deficiencies that are allowing them to exist and to persist and to continue working, and to continue harming people. And I have seen that in every department that I have investigated.

JELANI COBB:

And that, as much as anything else, is what set the country on fire this summer. Not only that George Floyd had been killed, but that the cop who killed him had a history of complaints yet still was on the job.

SPIKE MOSS, Civil rights leader:

All of us here want justice. We want him found guilty!

CROWD [chanting]:

No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!

JELANI COBB:

As people took to the streets—

CROWD:

Justice! When do we want it? Now!

JELANI COBB:

—venting their frustration with how many names there are to say—

CROWD [chanting]:

Say her name! Breonna Taylor! Say his name! George Floyd!

CROWD:

Don’t shoot!

CROWD:

Black lives matter!

JELANI COBB:

—calling for defunding or even abolishing the police, they were all, in essence, asking the same question: Can this ever be different?

That was the very same question they’d been trying to answer in Newark for the past several years. So this summer I went back to see how their experiments in police reform had been working out.

PROTEST MARCHERS [chanting]:

George Floyd! George Floyd! George Floyd! George Floyd!

JELANI COBB:

One thing I noticed right away were the protests.

CROWD [chanting]:

Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

JELANI COBB:

Unlike in other cities, where the police confronted protestors with rubber bullets and tear gas—

CROWD [chanting]:

I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

JELANI COBB:

—in Newark, Mayor Baraka was leading the march.

LARRY HAMM, Founder, People's Organization for Progress:

Mayor Ras Baraka, give him a big hand.

JELANI COBB:

How’ve you been? Good.

We met up in a city park.

Thank you for taking time. Can you hear me?

RAS J. BARAKA:

Yeah.

JELANI COBB:

So in many places in this country, dozens of places in this country, there were protests that tipped over into violence. We saw police cars being set on fire in Salt Lake City.

RAS J. BARAKA:

Right.

JELANI COBB:

Newark as a city, it's almost the opposite. Things remained relatively calm during the protests here. I wanted to understand how that happened.

RAS J. BARAKA:

A lot of prayer, brother. Historically, people know what we've been through in Newark. We needed police reform in 1967, and we burned the city down for three or four days, and we still need police reform, 50 years later or so. So they—I think, in they heart, they understood that that in and of itself would not give us the results we were looking for.

JELANI COBB:

He says the peaceful protests are partly due to the federal consent decree, which is still in effect in Newark.

The Department of Justice has said that they see consent decrees as a unwarranted federal intrusion into local affairs. I wonder what you make of that?

RAS J. BARAKA:

Well, if it wasn't for federal intrusion, we'd still be in slavery. I mean, we'd be in bad shape without federal intrusion. If the state or the municipalities can't provide justice for people who are harmed, then the federal government should step in and defend people's civil rights. And I think that's important. And that's what the federal government is doing. That's their job.

JELANI COBB:

When the Justice Department came to Newark back in 2016, Peter Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, was appointed to monitor compliance with the mandated reforms and report to a federal judge every quarter about the city’s progress.

So it's been four years since the consent decree began. How is the city doing overall?

PETER C. HARVEY, Independent federal monitor:

Much better. I think that Newark is an example of what can happen when a police agency decides to reform.

JELANI COBB:

He says over the last four years the police department has toughened its policies on everything from body cameras to use of force—

FEMALE POLICE OFFICER:

Anyone else? Questions?

JELANI COBB:

—and implemented extensive training to help officers understand the new standards.

MALE INSTRUCTOR:

Do you understand? That would be a plain touch exception.

PETER C. HARVEY:

They absolutely didn't know the law in certain aspects. Stops. Searches, with or without a warrant. Arrests, with or without a warrant. There's no question that many officers did not know it.

JELANI COBB:

Do you think that training in itself works?

PETER C. HARVEY:

If it's the right kind of training, yes, it works. Now, the question is, what kind of training are you receiving? And part of what we've done with use of force is we took videos from other cities where someone was killed and asked them questions. "What should the officer do at this point? What were the alternatives that the officer could have employed here to de-escalate the situation?" So we're using these videos to help Newark officers understand that when you're in this moment you have more tools than simply pulling the gun and shooting someone.

BRIAN O’HARA, Deputy Chief, Newark PD:

Newark's consent decree is about all of the things that people complain about as being wrong with policing in the United States today, right? It's about search and seizure, use of force, bias in policing, community engagement, oversight, all those kinds of things.

JELANI COBB:

Deputy Chief Brian O’Hara is Newark PD’s point man for the consent decree. He reports to Anthony Ambrose, the director of public safety in Newark who initially expressed some concern about federal oversight.

You said that is every executive's worst nightmare. What did you mean then, and do you still see it that way now?

ANTHONY AMBROSE, Dir., Newark Dept. of Public Safety:

Well, I think when I say it's every executive's nightmare is that you have a monitor. Now you have someone every day or every minute looking at your policies, looking at your practices, looking at it.

But I have to say some five years later I think that we've done some great things, and it's because of the consent decree. We've been able to train people that we wouldn't have been able to train years ago because of budgetary issues. That it was mandatory that we had to train. If that's what it takes to get it done, then I'm for it.

JELANI COBB:

So far, surveys conducted by the federal monitor show a slight rise in trust in the police. But the data also shows that the frequency of cops using force against Newark’s residents has been going up.

Based on the data that we've seen, it appears that the incidents involving use of force are up. Does that concern you any?

ANTHONY AMBROSE:

I’m going to have him answer this.

BRIAN O’HARA:

Reporting is up, which is what you want. Reporting is up. I think a lot of officers did not understand that the lowest levels of force must be reported, even in situations where people are not arrested. No one got that before. Then on top of it, after that, every month we have a review board that meets here, and they determine, OK, do we have a disciplinary issue here? Do we have a training issue? Is there anything else about this situation? Was there an opportunity to de-escalate and they did not properly de-escalate? And from those, we've seen great success.

PROTEST MARCHERS [chanting]:

No justice, no peace! Prosecute police!

JELANI COBB:

But that’s not how many in Newark and around the country continue to see things.

CROWD [chanting]:

Breonna Taylor! Jacob Blake!

JELANI COBB:

After the recent shootings of Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake—

FEMALE MARCHER:

If we don’t get it—

JELANI COBB:

—the calls for civilian oversight of the police have grown louder.

MALE PROTESTER:

It’s against your code, bro!

JELANI COBB:

Newark’s own civilian review board, hailed four years ago as a step forward, has actually been tied up in lawsuits. And this summer the New Jersey Supreme Court severely limited its power, striking down its ability to issue subpoenas.

LARRY HAMM, Founder, People's Organization for Progress:

What do we want?

CROWD:

Justice!

JELANI COBB:

It was a bitter disappointment to one of the leading community activists, Larry Hamm.

LARRY HAMM:

The police review board is a mechanism to give civilians some power over the police and how the police carry out their jobs. And specifically, to deal with violation of constitutional rights, racist policing tactics, a use of excessive force and unjust murder of civilians.

When you saw Chauvin—

JELANI COBB:

You mean Derek Chauvin, the officer accused—

LARRY HAMM:

Yes, Derek Chauvin, the officer that killed—

JELANI COBB:

Kneeling on George Floyd's neck.

LARRY HAMM:

Yes, that had his knee on George Floyd's neck. When you look at that video, you know what the most disturbing thing was, for me? It wasn't the knee on the neck. It was the look on Chauvin's face.

JELANI COBB:

What did that look say to you?

LARRY HAMM:

It said that this was a man that had no worries about what he was doing.

JELANI COBB:

Hmm.

LARRY HAMM:

He looked straight at the cameras! He wasn't worried about no cameras. You know why? Because they know that 99% of police brutality cases don't end in a conviction.

See, when it's clear to them that there will be an immediate price to pay for unjustly taking the lives of human beings and unjustly brutalizing people, that you're going to lose your badge, you're going to lose your gun, you're going to lose your job, you're going to lose your pension and you might lose your freedom, if you're convicted. When they understand that, I guarantee you that there will be a precipitous decline in police brutality cases in the United States.

JELANI COBB:

No one fought harder against the civilian review board than the city’s police union.

JAMES STEWART JR., Pres., NJ Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #12:

I have a disciplinary process here for our members. Nowhere in it does it say the members are subject to discipline by an outside group of people.

Here in the city, we got body-worn cameras. Something like 50% of the complaints made against police officers are exonerated as soon as the body cam is viewed by Internal Affairs. If there is a problematic cop out there, he's not going to be out there for long, OK? This notion that there is just this army of police across the country that are just out there just assaulting people is not factual. Those guys—

JELANI COBB:

Well, if we're talking about use of violence, there are about 1,200 people who are killed each year in interactions with the police. A significant number of those people are unarmed. It's not just people making it up.

JAMES STEWART JR.:

Last night, there was a million interactions with the police and nothing happened. You make it seem like there are—these physical encounters with police are unjustified. I think the vast majority of investigations reveal they are justified.

JELANI COBB:

But I think that that's what people would say is the problem. That if you have an interaction with police, a system is set up that will generally exonerate the police officer irrespective of what happened.

JAMES STEWART JR.:

You know, that, that's—

JELANI COBB:

I think that's the criticism people are making. It’s not my view necessarily.

JAMES STEWART JR.:

I'm glad you mentioned it. But the investigation reveals what the officer is allowed to do, right? That's the beauty and the curse of social media. You see a video, everyone loses their mind. "He can't do that, he can't do this." Well, maybe he actually can. Maybe the law—maybe why so many cops are not convicted, which is part of the uproar, is because they actually acted within their rights and within the law based on what occurred at that time.

JELANI COBB:

The U.S. Supreme Court has established that an officer can use force if they believe there’s a threat to their own life or to the lives of others.

MALE VOICE:

Please, please, man, please let me talk to him—

JELANI COBB:

But still, it’s often a murky question whether a cop using force against a civilian is justified.

MALE VOICE:

Yo, hold up, bro.

MALE VOICE 2:

You’re a b----, too, straight up.

FEMALE VOICE:

Oh!

JELANI COBB:

Take this incident caught on camera in Newark in May, when officers were responding to a disturbance.

MALE POLICE OFFICER 1:

Put your hands behind your back. [inaudible] your f------ hands!

MALE POLICE OFFICER 2:

Stop resisting.

MAN:

I'm not even resisting.

MALE POLICE OFFICER 2:

Put your hands behind your back!

MAN:

I’m not resisting.

JELANI COBB:

It’s currently under investigation.

CROWD:

Oh!

FEMALE VOICE:

Hey, stop punching him in the face like that!

MALE POLICE OFFICER 1:

Well, stop doing that! Put your hands behind your back!

FEMALE VOICE:

All right, but you punching him! It’s not that serious! Y’all going to break his f------ arm!

JELANI COBB:

Is that a justifiable use of force?

JAMES STEWART JR.:

Certainly.

JELANI COBB:

How is that justifiable?

JAMES STEWART:

The suspect came at the police officer; he doesn't have to wait to be struck by the suspect. He took the first action. Then, trying to get him to comply, he's not complying. That's why the officers are grappling with him on the ground. Is that the best place to be? No. Does it look good? No. It's not in the movies, where it's "put your hands behind your back" and it happens. Sometimes it's a struggle.

We're required to use the force necessary to get him under control. And then it has to stop.

JELANI COBB:

Should you be allowed to do that?

JAMES STEWART JR.:

OK, well, what's the option? I'll go back to that, if you want to play that.

JELANI COBB:

No, I’m asking you, should you be allowed to do that?

JAMES STEWART JR.:

How could we not?

JELANI COBB:

So I think that the debate that we're having here is that many people would say that the fact that it's legal doesn't mean that it's right.

JAMES STEWART JR.:

I can't dispute everybody's opinion. Is there an opportunity to maybe take a step back? Yeah, maybe. Like I said, if we were to break down every video that we ever saw, maybe you'd come up with something.

The police aren't going out there just looking for violent encounters or looking to physically impose their will on people. What does a cop want? We want to come to work, do our job and go home. We want a positive interaction with the community. But everybody's piling on, everybody's against you. There's protests or rallies all the time, anti-police this, anti-police that. It's a different—difficult atmosphere to want to be a part of in 2020.

JELANI COBB:

In the past few months, there have been proposals in Congress to create more clearly defined standards for the use of force nationwide.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Ranking senators are butting heads over the issue—

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-Calif.):

We have asked that there would be a meaningful discussion of the Justice in Policing Act.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL (R-Ky.):

They don't want to debate. They don’t want amendments.

JELANI COBB:

Thus far, the bills have stalled, and a stubborn fact remains: Police use force against Black people at a far higher rate than against whites.

But Newark’s public safety director says that that is just the reality of fighting crime in his city.

You said, "Blacks are 1.6 times more likely to be stopped than whites, 2.5 times more likely to be arrested and that police use force in those arrests 3.7 times more often." But you also said those numbers could create a false impression that the police disproportionately target Black people. What did you mean by that?

ANTHONY AMBROSE:

So our homicides are 20—I think we're at 22 homicides this year. About 94% are African Americans. I don't condone racial profiling. I don't condone police officers locking anybody up for their race or their gender or their creed or religion, anything like that. But the numbers are the numbers.

JELANI COBB:

Newark’s federal monitor is currently investigating whether the police are disproportionately targeting Black people or whether, as Ambrose says, they’re simply responding to crime.

But regardless, crime stats have long been cited as justification for an aggressive type of policing that critics see as an unrelenting knee on the neck of entire communities.

CROWD [chanting]:

I can't breathe! I can't breathe! I can't breathe!

JELANI COBB:

It’s why, right now, momentum is gathering not just to reform police, but to defund them and invest in alternative ways to address crime and violence in cities like Newark.

So one of the things that came to prominence after the protests started relating to George Floyd was this national conversation about defunding the police.

RAS J. BARAKA:

You know, as the mayor of a major city like Newark, man, we always have to be clear and careful about how we organize and what we say. For example, I think defunding's necessary, right? I think it's necessary to begin to divert funding from police organizations to social services, other kind of things like that. We've been thinking about that in Newark for some time now. So defunding means—

JELANI COBB:

He’s publicly opposed calls to abolish police—he wants to keep them—but start treating violence as a public health crisis, not a problem to be solved with policing alone.

RAS J. BARAKA:

In public health, some people are sick. And because there's some people sick, you have to address them with doctors, right? You have to address sickness.

If the data says that if my father was involved in violent crime, I'm more likely to be involved in a violent crime. If that's what the data is telling us, then we have to intervene so that the son and the grandson is not targeted by the police, but is now targeted by people who are trying to give them social services to pull them out of a condition that they are almost guaranteed to become a victim of violence and a perpetrator of violence. And treat it as a public health crisis as opposed to the police response.

JELANI COBB:

One way the mayor has been doing that is through a program he started several years ago, the Newark Community Street Team, which enlists former gang members to defuse conflicts and work as mentors.

AQEELA SHERRILLS, Dir., Newark Community Street Team:

All of the conversations that are happening up here is positioning us to be the ones that reduce violence and crime in our neighborhood.

JELANI COBB:

He brought in Aqeela Sherrills, who had led successful violence-reduction programs in other cities, including LA, where he helped organize a peace treaty between the Crips and the Bloods.

AQEELA SHERRILLS:

Because we talk about overaggressive policing, and police killing our kids with impunity. I’m like, how do we deal with it? We reduce violence and crime in our own neighborhoods. Then that way there’s no need for 20 cops, you know? Because if we making the neighborhood safe, then maybe we only need five, and we need to deploy them strategically, and then we can have better relationships with them because we’re not putting all of this pressure on our cops to do things.

MALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

We gonna start splitting up this side of the street and the other side of the street.

JELANI COBB:

The Newark Street Team has grown to a 50-person organization.

FEMALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

This is our 1-800 number, if you see something transpiring.

JELANI COBB:

It’s become an important part of the city’s overall approach to use community interventions instead of police to reduce violence.

In July, we met up with Street Team workers in the South Ward.

SOLOMON MIDDLETON WILLIAMS, Deputy Dir., Newark Community Street Team:

Missed you this morning.

MALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

We’re starting here and just walking straight down.

JELANI COBB:

Talk to me a little bit about what's happening here and why the Street Team is walking down Brookdale Street.

SOLOMON MIDDLETON WILLIAMS:

Yeah, so July 4 weekend we had a double homicide on this block.

JELANI COBB:

Wow.

SOLOMON MIDDLETON WILLIAMS:

We talk directly to the family members who've been impacted, and if there is plans for retaliation, that we convince them not to retaliate. We always say that we cannot stop the first bullet, but we sure can stop the second, the third and fourth one.

FEMALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

We coming to you live [inaudible] with Newark Community Street Team.

MALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

This is one of the areas that's called a hot spot.

MALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

We just want to touch everybody. If you need any services, we here.

FEMALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

Find us on our Facebook, like our page.

JELANI COBB:

The Street Team is also trained to answer distress calls. They’re stationed outside of the city schools. And they're embedded in the hospital to help victims and perpetrators of violence with social, legal and psychological services.

AQEELA SHERRILLS:

We’re trying to introduce more alternative ways for people to actually address their trauma. You’ve got all of the violence that has happened over the years, multigenerational trauma. I’m like, you know—you have young guys here, man, I'm like—it was astounding, brother, that most of the people on my team had been shot. Male and female.

JELANI COBB:

Wow.

AQEELA SHERRILLS:

And their parents were shot. And their parents' parents were shot. You know?

JELANI COBB:

Trauma has been a constant in Sherrills’ life. Growing up in LA, he lost more than a dozen friends to violence, and 16 years ago his own son was shot and killed. He’s devoted himself to conflict resolution.

So how receptive has the Newark PD been to your work?

AQEELA SHERRILLS:

It started out as a tense relationship, but I think that over the past four or five years we’ve really gained a lot of traction. We know that the work that we’re doing in the city is the same—it’s to create public safety and reduce harm. And we have a different approach. We're not looking to arrest, we're looking to heal.

JELANI COBB:

You’re saying that public safety and policing are not the same thing, but in a lot of people’s minds they are. So how are you defining public safety?

AQEELA SHERRILLS:

Well, first, safety is different from—for Black people and white people in this country. You talk to most Black folks, and most Black folks ain't never felt safe. And so, public safety is not just the absence of violence and crime. We gotta increase that sense of well-being where people feel OK about walking down the street at night.

JELANI COBB:

That involves trust-building with the cops as well.

MALE POLICE OFFICER:

This uniform is not a sign of oppression.

JELANI COBB:

The city holds regular meetings where police officers and community members share their traumatic experiences with each other.

FEMALE COMMUNITY MEMBER:

Part of the reason I’ll never be able to see beyond you being the police officer is because you’re not my neighbor.

RAS J. BARAKA:

Growing up in Newark, you've experienced some level of trauma. I've seen my father beaten by the police, arrested by the police. I've been arrested, stopped by the police. I've seen people shot, all kind of stuff. So, I've been traumatized. And police are traumatized because they were indoctrinated that the community don't like them, that the neighborhood is violent, that the criminals live here, people are going to murder you, shoot you, they don't care about you. And so what we try to do is go face-to-face, the police and the community, come face-to-face with those kind of realities.

MALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

Brother Damon, Newark Community Street Team. I’ll give it to you, brother!

JELANI COBB:

While it's hard to attribute changes in crime numbers to any one factor—

MALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

Just call us, rather than call law enforcement.

JELANI COBB:

—the approach in Newark does seem to be having some success.

MALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

You been walking this way, y'all.

JELANI COBB:

Last year the city had a 30-year low in violent crime, and in the South Ward, where much of it is concentrated, there was a 50% reduction in homicides.

ANTHONY AMBROSE:

I think that early on when the mayor talked about bringing Newark Community Street Team in, and bringing people in, it had to be explained to the police division. "This is alternative policing. We can’t do it all alone." And then when it first started, I said, "You know, Mayor, I don't know how this is going to work."

JELANI COBB:

Were you a little bit skeptical at the beginning?

ANTHONY AMBROSE:

I wasn't skeptical, I was concerned, like, all right, is there gonna be interference, you know what I'm saying? And I have to say that there's—we call them. I call Aqeela up, I say, "Listen man, there's something going on here, blah blah blah. Could you look into this for me?" and he said, "We're already on it."

MALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

Whoo, watch out for that vicious.

JELANI COBB:

In July, the mayor gave $11 million to programs like the Street Team—money he got by diverting 5% of the public safety budget.

MALE STREET TEAM WORKER:

Y’all hit this one already?

PETER C. HARVEY:

—and until you administer the training, you don’t get different behavior on the street.

JELANI COBB:

But Peter Harvey, the federal monitor overseeing the reforms here, cautions that the push to defund police departments should be weighed against the fact that reforming them costs money, too.

So is it fair to say that your perspective is that we should be increasing funding to police rather than defunding them?

PETER C. HARVEY:

I think you have to invest in certain components of police agencies if you want high-quality policing. If you're not going to give police agencies adequate resources for the components that matter—bias-free policing training, community engagement, use of force training, stop, search and arrest, internal affairs, data systems—then you are asking for trouble.

JELANI COBB:

As the country continues to grapple with the fallout of police violence and the frustrated calls for change when it comes to policing, what I see in Newark gives me hope.

RAS J. BARAKA:

Let us all take a knee.

JELANI COBB:

It's an experiment that's trying to move beyond policing, and at least in some measure address problems that have plagued Black America for far too long.

RAS J. BARAKA:

What people really want is they don't want to be murdered running from—at a traffic stop, or choked to death because they got a loose cigarette, or their neck stood on because of a $20 bill, or their kid murdered in front of a rec center for playing with a toy gun. They don't want to be murdered, and the real crazy thing is, even if you defund the police, it's not going to stop people from murdering us, or make people see us as human beings, right? That's not the crux of what we need to be getting at. And Jesse said something powerful, and I don't quote Jesse a lot, but he said something powerful.

JELANI COBB:

Jesse Jackson?

RAS J. BARAKA:

Jesse Jackson said, "Listen" he said, "We didn't struggle all these years just to have a kinder and gentler police force." That's not what we want, right? It would helpful, right [laughs], but that's not the end. The police represent a larger system that they are enforcing these people's values, right? More African American women die giving birth than on the streets by police because of inequity in the damn hospital. Every institution in America has the same values that the police department has in America. The police just got guns.

JELANI COBB:

What struck me about that was that so much and so little has changed.

Fifty years ago, a commission was appointed to investigate the cause of the Newark rebellion of 1967.

How are you doing?

MALE LIBRARIAN:

Hi, Dr. Cobb.

JELANI COBB:

I’m here to see the Lilley report.

MALE LIBRARIAN:

OK.

JELANI COBB:

The report laid blame with the police, but it also went it further than that. It blamed the violence on racial inequities and the failure of public education, as well as housing and employment discrimination.

The authors wrote that the report reflects “a deep failing in our society,” and that many of these problems “should have been solved by now.” “The question,” they said, “is whether we have the will to act.”

Fifty years later, the question remains the same.

27m
Massacre of El Salvador
Massacre in El Salvador
FRONTLINE, Retro Report and ProPublica examine the ongoing fight for justice for the horrific 1981 attack on the village of El Mozote and surrounding areas.
November 9, 2021