By David Jacobs | The Center Square
A committee of Louisiana lawmakers on Wednesday resolved to study law enforcement tactics statewide, though they removed language focusing on the treatment of black citizens by white officers.
Also on Wednesday, the ACLU of Louisiana announced an attempt to launch an “intensive litigation effort to challenge racially discriminatory policing practices and combat police violence against people of color.”
In its original form, House Resolution 13 by Baton Rouge Democratic Rep. Ted James referenced the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which helped to spur protests worldwide, and called for a study of law enforcement tactics in light of “the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers.” Republicans objected to that language.
“I have not seen that it’s just a problem between black victims and white police,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-East Pineville. He said he would support a study of law enforcement actions generally that did not presuppose a black-white problem.
Rep. Dodie Horton called the original resolution a “racist document.” Rep. Gerald Beaullieu said he also wants to know if the Laotian population in his district is being mistreated.
James said he didn’t mind changing the wording so the resolution could move forward, adding that he had seen video of a white protestor being attacked by a black officer. But Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, said that while the issues do transcend race, victims of police violence are more likely to be black men.
“To ignore the issue of race, we do ourselves a disservice,” Duplessis said.
The final version refers to the “disparate treatment of different segments of society.” If the full House approves the resolution, the study group will include House lawmakers and representatives of law enforcement and various activist groups, including the ACLU.
“For centuries, law enforcement officers have brutalized Black communities with near impunity – with justice coming too late or not at all,” Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana’s executive director, said in a prepared statement. “A dearth of lawsuits challenging these unconstitutional abuses has exacerbated this crisis, compounding the systemic racism that pervades our criminal legal system and allowing these practices to continue unchecked.”
ACLU’s project, dubbed “Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial,” seeks to enlist 100 for-profit law firms and 25 law school legal clinics to “unleash a wave of lawsuits intended to hold police accountable for unconstitutional misconduct and stop racially discriminatory policing,” the announcement says. The next step would be to identify up to 1,000 plaintiffs to challenge allegedly unconstitutional stops and seizures.
By focusing intensive efforts on a single state, activists hope “to establish a litigation blueprint” that could help to change law enforcement behavior nationwide.
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. According to the ACLU, it also has the largest ratio of police officers to residents.
Among other issues, the ACLU wants to take on the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which makes it difficult to punish police officers in civil litigation when they kill or injure someone unless they violate “clearly established law.”
The Center Square reached out to the Louisiana Fraternal Order of Police and did not immediately hear back.