Saturday 16 December 2017

Obama admits US 'not even close' to solving policing issues

President Barack Obama and Brittany Packnett, of the Taskforce on 21st Century Policing. Photo: AP/Carolyn Kaster
President Barack Obama and Brittany Packnett, of the Taskforce on 21st Century Policing. Photo: AP/Carolyn Kaster

Kevin Freking

America is not even close to where it needs to be in terms of resolving issues between police and the communities they serve, President Barack Obama has said.

His comments came after a meeting at the White House with community activists, politicians and police representatives. But Mr Obama expressed optimism and said the participants, including members of the 'Black Lives Matter' movement, agreed such conversations needed to continue despite emotions running raw.

Mr Obama has devoted his attention this week to the gun violence directed at officers as well as shootings by police, days after a black US Army veteran killed five policemen in Texas as revenge for the shooting of black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Minneapolis suburbs.

On Tuesday, the president attended a memorial service for the five Dallas officers and called the families of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota to offer condolences.

He said he wanted Americans to have an open heart so they could learn to look at the world through each other's eyes and Wednesday's White House meeting, which lasted more than three hours, followed that theme.

Mr Obama said it would be key to repeat the "kind of respectful conversations we've had here" across the country.

"The conversation that took place around this table is very different than the one that you see on a day-to-day or hourly basis in the media," he said.

But he also said making progress was hard. "We're not even close to being there yet, where we want to be," Mr Obama said.

The nearly three dozen people invited to the White House included some police organisations that have little regard for 'Black Lives Matter', a group they blame for inciting violence against police officers.

White House officials acknowledged that enhancing the trust that has been frayed in so many communities will be a job for future presidents, but said Mr Obama was determined to get all sides to commit to steps they could take to improve relations.

Police groups and activists emerged from the meeting saying they did not always agree with each other on the issues, but they did concur that the meeting was productive and could lead to building trust and improving accountability in police departments.

"From the law enforcement perspective, we hear it, we understand it," said Terry Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. "I think that too often we comment about statistics. This isn't about statistics from one side or another. This is about emotion. This is about people's lives. This is about fear in the community and it's our job to make people safe."

Irish Independent

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