By Brett Gillin
After the events in Ferguson and New York involving the death of citizens at the hands of police and the subsequent protests, President Obama announced that he would be putting together a task force to try and deal with the issues. This week, President Obama’s Task Force on Policing met in their first public meeting. During this meeting, they heard from a wide range of people and listened to suggestions on both sides of the ongoing debates.
According to this article in St. Louis Today, Obama’s task force features 11 members. These members range from civil rights activists and experts to police chiefs and college professors. Their main task is to listen to the public debates and put together a list of recommendations, in report form, by March 2, 2015.
One of the task force members, a civil rights activist named Brittany Packnett, told reporters that they had a monumental task ahead of them. “There is clearly a great deal of work to do,” she told reporters after listening to many suggestions from the community. Packnett also told the story of a local 10th grade student with aspirations to become a police officer. This student was recently stopped and frisked by police, leading to mixed emotions.
During their first meeting, the task force mostly listened to suggestions as to how to repair the relationship between the police and the communities they protect every day
A Harvard law professor named Charles Ogletree told the task force that there was no simple solution to the problem. He insisted that a holistic approach must be followed in order to solve the problems society is facing today. One of the points Ogletree brought up was the disparity in the number of minority police officers in Ferguson, especially compared to the number of minorities in the population they serve. Ogletree told the taskforce “everything has to change – education, housing, jobs.”
A professor from the University of Nebraska-Omaha told the task force that he believed “disrespectful policing” was the root of the problem. He claimed that police using offensive language “builds a reservoir of distrust and anger at the police.” His remedy: mandatory annual police training in “respectful policing.”
Police representatives told the task force that many police officers feel like they’re under constant attack and being painted with broad brushes thanks to the actions of a very small number of officers on the streets. They also pointed out that citizens rarely know much about the rigors of the jobs police officers undertake. Instead, they pointed out that today’s police are being treated similarly to the way Vietnam Veterans were treated after that war.
The task force clearly has a lot of work to do in the coming months. There are 5 more scheduled meetings throughout the country in the coming weeks.