A Kansas prosecutor working with President Donald Trump’s controversial law enforcement task force resigned from his role, telling Attorney General William Barr in a letter that he was “deeply offended by a political agenda to divide rather than build” and worried that the commission wouldn’t “acknowledge the systemic racism in our justice system.”
Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree, the first and only Black elected district attorney in Kansas, said he joined the commission’s working group on reentry programs and initiatives in the hope of bringing together different perspectives to positively affect the relationship between communities and law enforcement.
“Unfortunately, that excitement and joy was replaced with disappointment and concern with a process that left too many important voices out and one that completely lacked transparency,” Dupree wrote.
“I have yet to hear whether the Commission’s final report intends to adequately address the racial equity issues millions are pleading with us to reckon with, nor am I confident that the Commission’s recommendations will acknowledge the systemic racism in our justice system — these issues are fundamental to earning the trust of people of color in this country,” Dupree wrote.
“Instead, and more troubling, the Commission appears to be intent on exploiting the divisions that exist in this country. Other commission members and I were not given access to read the full report and final recommendations. I cannot in good faith sign my name to a document if I have no idea what the final document actually advocates,” Dupree wrote.
“As the first and only African American elected District Attorney in the state of Kansas, as well as a reform-minded prosecutor who focuses on being smart on crime and using a holistic approach to justice, I am deeply offended by a political agenda to divide rather than build. This report will perpetuate the harms of the war on drugs, which was a war on people of color, rather than move our country toward equity,” he wrote.
A federal judge temporarily halted the commission’s work last month, ruling that it violated the law by excluding a number of voices and that any report released by the commission must come with a warning. The commission was supposed to issue its report in October, just ahead of the presidential election.
A Justice Department spokesperson said they had received Mr. Dupree’s letter and respected his request. “He was a valuable member of the working group on Reentry Programs and Initiatives and made important contributions to the Commission’s work,” the spokesperson said. The spokesperson did not say when the report would be issued.
Prosecutor John Choi quit a commission task force earlier this year, voicing similar concerns about the Trump commission’s agenda.
Miriam Krinsky, the executive director of the progressive prosecutors’ group Fair and Just Prosecution, applauded Dupree’s decision and said the commission “missed a vital and timely opportunity to bring new thinking to the vision of policing” in America.
“Members were not selected through a bipartisan process, and civil rights experts, defense lawyers, formerly incarcerated individuals, researchers and scholars were all glaringly absent from the commission and its working groups,” Krinsky said. “At a time when trust in law enforcement is at an all-time low, this commission and any questionable report it issues will only further divide our country.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general, in a report issued this week, wrote that public criticism of the commission by members, outside groups and a federal judge “may undermine public confidence” in the commission’s work.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said that figuring out how to “most effectively work to strengthen public confidence in law enforcement and protect individuals’ civil liberties” was one of the “most pressing challenges” facing the Justice Department in the wake of the high-profile deaths of several Black Americans at the hands of police officers.