Yesterday, NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill participated in a White House meeting with President Barack Obama Vice President Joe Biden, representatives from law enforcement organizations, youth leaders, local elected officials and members of the faith community.
The meeting comes on the heels of protests around the nation and a renewed commitment by civil rights leaders to reduce racial bias in policing following last week’s announcement by St. Louis County District Attorney Bob McCulloch that Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for killing Michael Brown. The meeting focused on how law enforcement agencies can work with civil rights and community organizations in promoting practices to eliminate bias in policing. President Obama described his support for law enforcement and the hard work they do.
President Obama announced the adoption of initiatives intended to build trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. These include a task force on 21st century policing, an executive order to promote accountability and transparency in the use of military-style equipment by local law enforcement, and a community policing initiative which would expand funding and training for local law enforcement, including up to 50,000 body-worn cameras.
Sherrilyn Ifill commented: “Yesterday’s meeting was a significant first step in acknowledging the problem of racial bias in policing and searching for real, concrete measures for change. We think the President was exactly right when he said we begin the work today rather than end it. I am hopeful that this Task Force, led by two able and respected law enforcement officers, will fulfill the President’s call for workable recommendations and an implementation plan in the next three months. As a nation, we cannot afford to wait for the assault or killing of unarmed African Americans. Racial profiling by law enforcement should have no place in our democracy. Our nation’s law enforcement officers should receive the best and highest level of training to ensure that bias is eliminated from police encounters with members of the community they serve.”
Since the tragic shooting of Michael Brown, LDF has advocated for accountability and transparency of local police practices. LDF has urged the Department of Justice to take four specific actions to reduce the incidence of officer-related shootings against African-Americans, including: 1) undertaking a comprehensive review of police-involved assaults and killings of unarmed individuals, with a focus on killings of unarmed African Americans; 2) providing strong incentives for racial bias training and avoiding the use of force in federal grant process; 3) holding police officers accountable to the full extent of the law; and 4) encouraging the use of police officer body-worn cameras.
LDF has also worked to identify the structural issues in Ferguson which predate the Michael Brown shooting and contributed to the political, social and economic dynamic existing in that community today.
In commenting on the initiatives announced by the President, Ifill stated:
“These are concrete plans designed to engage stakeholders in examining deeply rooted structural problems in policing. We will continue to work with the Obama Administration to promote accountability of police actions, to provide appropriate training to officers, and to ensure the recording and transparency of their practices. Finally, we hope the executive order will eliminate the possibility that military weapons are used in our nation’s schools.”