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AG Holder: Wants to create Center for Justice and Reconciliation

Attorney General Eric Holder will be leaving office next year and is already thinking about his next chapter.

He’s winding up his tenure organizing meetings in Chicago and other cities to build relationships between police and black communities, fractured in the wake of Ferguson and Staten Island, where unarmed black men were killed by white officers.

Holder wants to keep the difficult conversations about race relations going through the creation of a “Center for Justice and Reconciliation,” an institute, he told me, “that deals with the problems of law enforcement and community relations, you know, the thing we’re working on right now.”

A “Holder Institute” would be a natural component of a Barack Obama presidential library and museum; something, it seems to me, for the Chicago-based Barack Obama Foundation to consider as it evaluates the four bids for the project it received last week.

Holder and I discussed a variety of issues while he was in Chicago on Friday:

Here are edited highlights:

Q. Are prosecutors seen as too much on the side of police?

A. It is hard, I think for people to look at that video from Staten Island (where police wrestled Eric Garner to the ground) and not understand how there was not, at a minimum, probable cause to bring charges in that case.

Now again, we are still in the process of looking at the matter ourselves. But there is, I think, a legitimate question at least that needs to be answered. And maybe there is a good answer. But I think the question needs to be answered, if you are somebody in law enforcement who works on a day-to-day basis with the people you now are supposed to investigate, how can you do [that] in a way that is seen as credible and actually is doing it in an appropriate way.

Q. Is a body camera on a police officer a deterrent or a record?

A. It does both. … They are not a panacea, but I think they are an important component, especially in our video-driven, 21st-century world.

Q. We’ve had the first African-American attorney general and president for six years. Yet again we are having another serious conversation about race. Are you a little frustrated?

A. We’re talking about issues that have been, that have permeated the history of this country. … I’ve said all along that we’ll have these conversations, they’re painful to have, people are adept at avoiding them.

And it’s understandable why people want to avoid them because they are painful, you know. Your motives get questioned. If you’re a white person and you raise an issue about, “Well I don’t understand why you’re complaining about that. I didn’t do that, that was something you’re talking about that happened hundreds of years ago,” your motives are questioned, and that’s a difficult thing, and I understand how people are reluctant to put themselves out there.

Q. Extra resources have been deployed to the ATF (the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives bureau) in Chicago. For how long?

A. I think what we try to do with these surges is try to identify places where you got spikes in violent crime. You certainly saw that in Chicago a couple of years ago, 18 months or so ago, but you’re starting to see the levels of homicide certainly come down, levels of shooting maybe coming up a bit which is an interesting phenomena, so my guess is that when we get to a level that we feel comfortable and after we’ve consulted with our local partners, we’ll probably start to scale back.