(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Thursday that the DOJ has the ability to “reach into specific jurisdictions” that demonstrate a pattern of unfairly targeting minorities for minor traffic infractions and can use its “power of persuasion” to discourage other jurisdictions with a similar pattern from engaging in the same practices by pointing to the DOJ’s report on the investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.
“I think we do have the ability to reach into specific jurisdictions when we have a case, but … we’re not able to cover every municipality, but that’s where I think we have to use two things: the DOJ’s power of persuasion, which is to say look at the Ferguson report, and we encourage jurisdictions to look at that,” she said during an appearance at the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ)/National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) annual convention.
“If we’re working with a city where we see a similar situation, our goal is to have them read that report and say, ‘I don’t want to go down that road. I don’t want to find myself in a situation where if there is a flashpoint incident, this will be highlighted,’ and hopefully get them to change,” Lynch said.
MSNBC’s Joy Reid asked the attorney general how much leverage the DOJ has to force communities that use their police force “as an economic generating arm” by “routinely” stopping and targeting minorities to increase their financial coffers to change their practices.
Reid also asked what specific tools the DOJ has used on communities like Ferguson.
“Is the financial wherewithal that is delivered to these police departments from DOJ, is that enough to make them change,” Reid asked the attorney general.
Lynch said besides the “power of persuasion,” the DOJ also has “the power to convene - and not just DOJ.”
“The whole administration’s been focusing on this issue. The issue of – we call it a fees and fines issue, because it isn’t just law enforcement and tickets and the like,” she added.
Lynch said that oftentimes small municipalities have “a system or structure of fines for various offenses ranging from your property issues and license tags that really do fall disproportionately on minority individuals.”
“You also see a system where if someone gets caught up in say a misdemeanor offense, there should be just a fine and they go home. Because they can’t afford the fine, it doubles. What sense does that make? You can’t afford to pay $50, so now we will now charge you $100, and then when you can’t pay the $100, well now it’s $200. And then once it reaches a certain economic level, certain monetary level, well then you could possibly be imprisoned,” she said.
“And people, you know when you imprison people, they may lose their jobs, so this has been a problem that we’ve been trying to raise attention to throughout the administration, and the White House has actually had some convenings on this issue as well, because we have more than just federal law. There is the power of the bully pulpit,” Lynch said.
“The president has spoken on this issue. I’ve spoken on it. There’s the power of publicizing these issues, and that’s why I’m glad we’re here today with these two associations,” she added.