Tuesday 20 February 2018

US nowhere near community policing solution - Obama

Barack Obama gives his verdict on the White House meeting (AP)
Barack Obama gives his verdict on the White House meeting (AP)

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 that 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.

Those attending the meeting included Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards and Chris Coleman, mayor of St Paul, Minnesota - the two locations where police shootings sparked protests around the country.

Mayors from Los Angeles, Newark, New Jersey, and Anaheim, California, also attended. Attorney general Loretta Lynch joined the president.

"At a time when our country, when we are talking past each other, the president's convening allowed us to hear one another," said Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti.

Also on the list were Mica Grimm of Black Lives Matter Minnesota, and DeRay Mckesson, who was arrested on Saturday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on a charge of obstructing a highway. Civil rights activist t he Rev Al Sharpton also attended.

Police said Mr Mckesson "intentionally" placed himself in the road after protesters were repeatedly warned to remain on private property or the kerb. Mr Mckesson was released from jail on Sunday.

"We learned a lot about the shocking emotions that police have going to work every day and they felt our pain of having to tell our children to be careful of policemen," Mr Sharpton said.

He said the talk, however, must lead to change, and when it comes to shootings by police "they can't be right every time".

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."

Mr Cunningham said the Dallas Police Department exemplified that commitment to its community when officers used themselves as human shields to protect bystanders from possibly being shot.

Mr Obama also took to Facebook to encourage more participation. "Going forward, I want to hear ideas from even more Americans about how we can address these challenges together as one nation. That means you," he said.

He called on people to submit their stories and ideas to go to: go.wh.gov/VDPvKz


Press Association

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