President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $263 million to change the way community policing is done, in the wake of recent widespread racial tension and violence in Ferguson, MO. The shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer, and the officer’s acquittal by a grand jury last week, is indicative of what goes on in communities of color nationwide, Obama said.
The president wants funding to buy 50,000 body cameras to record events like Brown’s shooting death and support for programs that will build greater trust, accountability and transparency of police.
Police, clergy, civil rights leaders, and activists met with Obama at the White House to weigh in on racial profiling, abusive policing and the militarized tactics that put citizens at odds with those sworn to protect them. The president also announced the creation of a task force to this end, co-chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and George Mason University Professor of Criminology Laurie Robinson.
Obama’s executive orders for police reform came just two days before another controversial grand jury decision involving the killing of an unarmed black man by a white policeman.
On Wednesday, a New York City grand jury declined to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, for the death of Eric Garner, despite a video showing Garner being placed in a chokehold by Pantaleo and yelling "I can't breathe!" and a medical examiner ruling Garner's death a homicide, caused in part by the chokehold.
Police maintained that Garner’s weight was a factor in his respiratory condition.
A round of protests broke out shortly after the decision. There was a massive standoff between police and protestors, and several arrests made at 47th and 6th Avenue. Demonstrators blocked the streets of Times Square and held a “die-in” at Grand Central Terminal among other spontaneous events around the city. Protestors laid down on the ground, which is a gesture symbolic of people dying in the street. Brown laid in the street four and a half hours before Ferguson authorities removed his dead body.
In a conference call last month, a member of a police watch group in Ferguson said the Brown shooting has morphed into a national movement against abusive police. “It’s about stopping the black man from being killed or assaulted by a police officer every 28 hours in this country,” he said.
All too familiar with the mistrust that occurs between police and communities of color—and leaders who have called for change, but done nothing—Obama promised “this time will be different.”
"Part of the reason this time will be different is because the president of the United States is deeply invested in making sure that this time is different," Obama said. "It violates my belief in what America can be to hear young people feeling marginalized and distrustful even after they've done everything right."
Protestors in Ferguson and elsewhere have kept the pressure on since Brown’s death in August—marching, chanting, forming community networks and posting numerous stories and photos on social media.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced new Justice Department plans aimed at ending racial profiling and ensuring fair and effective policing.
"In the coming days, I will announce updated Justice Department guidance regarding profiling by federal law enforcement, which will institute rigorous new standards -- and robust safeguards -- to help end racial profiling, once and for all," Holder said in Atlanta.