Julia Craven Reporter, The Huffington Post
Police in riot gear walk outside Bank of America Stadium before a football game in Charlotte, North Carolina in September. Protests disrupted the city after an officer fatally shot Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black man.
The president of the largest police organization in the country issued an apology on Monday to communities of color for the “historic mistreatment” they have suffered at the hands of law enforcement officers.
Terrence Cunningham, the police chief of Wellesley, Massachusetts, delivered the apology during a speech at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in San Diego. The IACP includes 23,000 police officials from across the United States, The Washington Post reports.
“We must forge a path that allows us to move beyond our history and identify common solutions to better protect our communities,” Cunningham said. “For our part, the first step in this process is for law enforcement and the IACP to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”
“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,” he continued. “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.” 1.
Cunningham has a point. The relationship between law enforcement and communities of color has long been strained ― especially for African-Americans. Modern-day police forces grew out of slave patrols (at least in the South). During the height of the Jim Crow era, police officers were tasked with maintaining state-sanctioned racial oppression.
“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 said.
But racial discrimination in policing didn’t end with Jim Crow. Police officers are still required to enforce racially discriminatory laws ― such as SB 1070, an immigration law in Arizona that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they think is in the country illegally. Or New York’s “stop and frisk” policy, which was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in New York in 2013 for violating the Fourth Amendment rights of Black and Latino New Yorkers.
As movements like Black Lives Matter note, people of color ― especially African-Americans ― are disproportionately killed, harassed and stopped by the police for mundane reasons. Because of this, trust toward the police is far lower in communities of color.
Cunningham is certainly aware of this: He pointed to the high-profile police shootings of unarmed black people that have “tragically undermined the trust that the public must and should have in their police departments.”
“Many officers who do not share this common heritage often struggle to comprehend the reasons behind this historic mistrust,” Cunningham said. “As a result, they are often unable to bridge this gap and connect with some segments of their communities.”