US President Barack Obama asked federal agencies on Monday for concrete recommendations to ensure the US is not building a “militarized culture” within police departments, as he promoted the use of body cameras by police in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri.
With protests ongoing in Ferguson and across the country, Obama spoke to reporters at the end of a White House meeting with police, civil rights activists and local leaders and acknowledged the participants told him that there have 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,” Obama said.
Obama 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 marginalized and distrustful even after they’ve done everything right,” Obama said.
At least for now, Obama is staying away from Ferguson in the wake of the uproar over a grand jury’s decision last week not to charge the police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown. Violent protests and looting erupted after the decision, resulting in at least a dozen commercial buildings being destroyed, despite 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 US$263 million spending package to help police departments improve their community relations. Of the total, US$74 million would be used to help pay for 50,000 of the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police on the job, with state and local governments paying half the cost
Pushing back on concerns the task force would be all talk and no action, 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 marginalized in society and said those stories violate “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.
US Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday to meet with law enforcement and community leaders for the first in a series of regional meetings around the country. Obama asked Holder to set up the meetings in the wake of clashes between protesters and police in Ferguson.
Speaking at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Holder said that he will soon unveil long-planned US Department of Justice guidance aimed at ending racial profiling by federal law enforcement.
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