Obama: I won’t ‘militarise’ police

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Published: Tuesday 2nd December 2014 by The News Editor

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Barack Obama says he is taking steps to ensure America is not building a “militarised culture” within police forces as he promotes the use of body cameras by officers in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

With protests continuing in Ferguson and across the country, President Obama, speaking after a White House meeting with police, civil rights activists and community leaders, acknowledged the participants told him that there had been task forces in the past and “nothing happens”.

“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,” Mr Obama said.

He said he was upset to hear the young people in the meeting describe their experiences with police. “It violates my belief in what America can be to hear young people feeling marginalised and distrustful even after they’ve done everything right,” he said.

At least for now, Mr Obama is staying away from Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the uproar over a grand jury’s decision last week not to charge Darren Wilson, the policeman who shot dead 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Violent protests and looting erupted after the decision, resulting in at least a dozen commercial buildings being destroyed, despite Mr Obama’s pleas for calm.

In tandem with the meeting, the White House announced it wants more police to wear cameras that capture their interactions with civilians. The cameras are part of a 263 million-dollar (£167.5m) spending package to help police forces improve their community relations.

Of the total, 74 million dollars (£47m) would be used to help pay for 50,000 of the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police in action, with state and local governments paying half the cost

Pushing back on concerns the task force would be all talk and no action, Mr Obama said this situation was different because he was personally invested in ensuring results. He said young people attending the meeting had relayed stories about being marginalised in society and said those tales violated “my idea of who we are as a nation”.

“In the two years I have remaining as president, I’m going to make sure we follow through,” he said.

Meanwhile, US attorney general Eric Holder travelled to Atlanta, Georgia, to meet police and community leaders for the first in a series of regional meetings around the country. Mr Obama had asked him to set up the meetings in the wake of clashes between protesters and police in Ferguson.

Speaking at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta – where Martin Luther King preached – Mr Holder said he would soon unveil long-planned Justice Department guidance aimed at ending racial profiling by police.

“This will institute rigorous new standards – and robust safeguards – to help end racial profiling, once and for all,” he said. “This new guidance will codify our commitment to the very highest standards of fair and effective policing.”

Mr Holder’s meeting in Atlanta included a closed round-table discussion with police and community leaders followed by a public inter-faith service and community forum.

The selection of Dr King’s church as the site for the meeting was significant. The most successful and enduring movements for change adhere to the principles of non-aggression and non-violence that Dr King preached, Mr Holder said.

While the grand jury has made its decision, the Justice Department continues its investigation into the death of Brown and into allegations of unconstitutional policing patterns or practices by the Ferguson Police Department, Holder said to loud applause.

Mr Holder, who plans to leave his attorney general position once a successor is confirmed, has identified civil rights as a cornerstone priority for the Justice Department and speaks frequently about what he calls inequities in the treatment of minorities in the criminal justice system.

He has targeted sentences for non-violent drug crimes that he says are overly harsh and disproportionately affect black defendants and has promoted alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders.

Published: Tuesday 2nd December 2014 by The News Editor

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