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Gupta Leaves DOJ With Legacy on Gun Violence, Police Oversight

Vanita Gupta, who departs Friday as the Justice Department's number-three official, tells NPR that some of the most meaningful and painful experiences have come in meetings with victims of gun violence — from street crime in Chicago and the racist killings at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., to the murder of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Tex., in May 2022. This month, federal authorities said some of those victims in Uvalde may have died because of the botched law enforcement response. Family members sobbed as they heard the Justice Department's findings, Gupta says. "These trips are ones that will stick with me forever," Gupta said. "I talk about them a lot because it's important to understand that the trauma that lives in the aftermath of these acts goes on long after the media goes away."


She said the Justice Department is working to support survivors and first responders who are traumatized after seeing the most awful things. During the Obama years, she led the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, launching systemic investigations of police departments that violated the Constitution. Those pattern-or-practice investigations fell out of favor in the Trump administration; Gupta and her colleagues have revived them. "We are operating to ensure effectiveness, and when we find places where we are less than effective or that need improvement, we have to be willing to take a look at ourselves and do better," she said.

Officials in Phoenix, where police remain under a broad civil rights investigation, have criticized the Justice Department for a "one size fits all" approach to police reform. Gupta responded that the Justice Department has been fair and independent, even imposing new limits and accountability for police monitors.

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