While visiting Chicago on October 27, President Obama addressed the families of fallen police officers and a group of over 14,000 police chiefs on the problem of the epidemic of violence in America. He urged police and communities to work together to solve the problem by building mutual respect and reducing racial biases. On what many young African Americans encounter, the President shared his own experiences:
“There were times when I was younger and maybe even as I got a little older, but before I had a motorcade — where I got pulled over. And I confessed… most of the time I got a ticket, I deserved it. I knew why I was pulled over. But there were times where I didn’t.”
A recent survey found that many African Americans report similar experiences, being pulled over and of being frisked for no reason at all. An aggregate of these cases gives proof that there is a racial bias in the system. But the President clarified that bias and stereotypes go both ways, so the change needs to happen on both ends. The fundamental force for improvement comes from the fact that everyone in the minority community wants strong, effective law enforcement. Families want their kids to be safe in playgrounds and when walking to and from school. The police have a dangerous job and “Nobody wants to see police officers hurt.” But they can be effective only with the cooperation of the community.
The police need to make some changes too. Officers need to build trust by stopping the use of excessive force or racial profiling. The President acknowledged that the changes will not be easy and will take a dedicated effort: the police departments need more resources to provide services such as community policing, especially because crime is more prevalent in minority communities. The departments must honestly address situations where an officer used excessive force or overstepped his/her role in some way.
“So none of this is easy, but it can be done. And it has to be done. Because I refuse to believe that the only choice we have is to either ignore circumstances of racial bias or make it impossible for police officers to do their job. That can’t be the choice that we’ve got. We’ve got to reject that false choice.”
So President Obama was addmitted that the current stalemate must be overcome, by honestly facing and changing our own biases and making efforts to develop a trusting relationship between the police and minorities. Bad cops must be weeded out, and awareness of racial biases raised. Once changes are made and trust built, we will begin to see true progress – of safe communities and effective police forces. But when will change come? And how quickly? No one can say…