The president of an American organization of police chiefs addressed "mistrust" and "dark periods" of law enforcement as he apologized for the role of the organization has played in "society's historical mistreatment of communities of color."
Terrence M. Cunningham, chief of police in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, made the remarks Monday at the IACP's conference of police executives at the San Diego Convention Center.
"There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens. In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans," Cunningham said.
"While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational — almost inherited — mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies."
Cunningham is the latest law enforcement official to address the tensions between officers and the communities they police, especially along racial lines. The Black Lives Matter movement has for years now called attention to what it says is systematic racial profiling and police brutality toward black people, but police have also been targeted in recent attacks as well.
President Barack Obama has joined the conversation, calling for both sides of the issue to hear each other out in the wake of a deadly ambush on police officers in downtown Dallas this July. Afterward, Obama held a meeting at the White House for activists, politicians and law enforcement officials to discuss ways to resolve the tensions, though Obama concluded afterward that the country is "not even close" to resolving those issues.
Cunningham said Monday that the first step to building a shared understanding is for the law enforcement profession to acknowledge and apologize for what's already happened and the role it has played in "society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color."
“At the same time those who denounce the police must also acknowledge that today’s officers are not to blame for the injustices of the past,” he continued.
Cunningham argued that the profession of law enforcement officer is a noble one at its core but there have been darker periods when officers have been put in the position of being “the face of oppression.”
“It is my hope that by working together, we can break this historic cycle of mistrust and build a better and safer future for us all,” he said.
Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement are giving mixed reviews to the apology, according to the Associated Press.
Campaign Zero co-founder DeRay Mckesson said Monday that he looks forward to seeing Cunningham's comments backed up by deep, structural changes to policing and the criminal justice system.
Charlene Carruthers, national director for the Chicago-based BYP100, says an apology doesn't go far enough. She says a major step toward solving the problem is taking financial resources away from law enforcement and redirecting them into community-based programs.
Watch the entire IACP statement here.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch also spoke at the conference to promote her department's efforts to collect data on deaths in custody and police shootings.
The process of gathering the data will convey an accurate picture of what’s happening out in the field, Lynch said.
“Better information helps everyone,” she said, adding that the project could not be undertaken without the help from the IACP.