President Barack Obama emerged from a series of meetings Monday afternoon with what he called “concrete steps” his administration is taking in response to the ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
Protests have rocked the relatively small St. Louis suburb since August, when a white police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teen. The demonstrations turned violent last week after a grand jury decided not to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, who said he acted in self-defence.
Obama has struck a relatively cautious tone on the protests, limiting his public comments to what he describes as the broader issues raised in Ferguson — not the specifics of the Wilson case. In particular, Obama has focused on improving the relationship between black and Latino communities and local law enforcement.
After Ferguson-focused meetings with his cabinet members, elected officials, civil rights leaders, law enforcement officials, and young people from Ferguson, Obama unveiled four things the federal government is doing to try and mend that community-police relationship:
- Limiting the Militarization of Local Police Forces: The police crackdown of the August protests was widely criticised for the use of military-style weapons, uniforms, and other gear. Obama said he had commissioned a review of whether the federal government “was militarizing domestic law enforcement unnecessarily” and will soon issue an executive order to address the issue. The executive order, he said, will specify the limits of the program that provides the equipment, mandate transparency, and make sure the government isn’t “building a militarised culture inside our local law enforcement.”
- “New Community Policing Initiatives”: Obama said he will work with Congress to significantly expand funding and training for local police departments. One of these proposals — funding tens of thousands of police body cams — was unveiled earlier in the day. Obama said he was looking to ensure the government is “in a conversation with law enforcement that wants to do the right thing to make sure that they’re adequately resourced for the training and the technology that can enhance trust between communities and police.”
- Meetings With Law Enforcement: Attorney General Eric Holder will convene a series of meetings with law enforcement agencies across the country on additional ways to improve tensions between police and the communities they serve.
- A Task Force to Look Into Even More Solutions: A task force will soon begin to study even more things the federal government can do to improve community-police relations, including studying the best practices of localities with successful track records on the issue, Obama said. He added that he was expecting these recommendations in 90 days. “This is not going to be an endless report that ends up collecting dust on a shelf. My expectation is concrete recommendations that we can begin to operationalize … at the federal, state, and local levels,” he said.
After laying out the four steps, Obama dismissed sceptics who might point to past task forces and commissions that failed to effect change.
“This time will be different,” he vowed. “The president of the United States is deeply invested in making sure that this time is different.”
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