Ninety-six organizations sent a letter on Oct. 3 pressing the Department of Justice on the need for states and law enforcement to collect and report data on fatal police shootings as part of the implementation of the Death In Custody Reporting Act.
“It is unacceptable that two years after Ferguson and the enactment of the Death In Custody Reporting Act, the federal government is not properly collecting data on fatal police shootings,” said Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel for the ACLU. “We have reached a state of crisis with our police-community relations, and solutions can only come once we have solid data.”
Bennett added, “When the Department of Justice disregards DICRA so that states do not have to be the primary entity collecting and reporting data, the federal government sends the message that it is not serious about changing the status quo in policing. These circumstances are likely to create future situations like we saw in Ferguson and other cities, unless the federal government provides real oversight and accountability of the state and local law enforcement that it provides millions of dollars to annually.”
ACLU affiliates and local organizations in these states also sent letters to the Department of Justice calling for the need of information on deaths in police custody:
On the Web
The coalition letter is here.
Patriots are not only men and women who risk their lives to protect our freedoms on the battlefield. They’re also people who risk their lives, careers and reputations here at home to protect our freedoms and strive for a more perfect union.
On Aug. 26, San Francisco 49ers quarterback (and Milwaukee native) Colin Kaepernick showed his patriotism in an usual way: He risked his career by refusing to stand for the national anthem before a preseason game with the Packers. His action was intended to draw attention to the ongoing injustices suffered by African Americans and other minorities. And it did.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick also stirred discussions about the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression, a major underpinning of our democracy and the freedoms it affords. Even prominent people who disagreed with the quarterback’s action defended his right to do it. While this reaction was far from universal, it was widespread enough to show how far the nation has come in First Amendment awareness since the sit-ins of the black civil rights movement, which met with brutality and repression.
It’s been a few years since football stars Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo put their careers on the line for same-sex marriage. Since then, we’ve been besieged by negative stories of athletes involved in rapes, shootings, domestic violence and cheating. Against that backdrop, Kaepernick reminded us of the power that sports figures have to influence progress, simply by standing up — or sitting down — courageously for civil rights.
Kaepernick has been joined by a growing number of other athletes. He’s refined his protest strategy, kneeling rather than sitting during the anthem in an apparent reference to the quarterback move of “taking a knee.”
In an op-ed he wrote for The Washington Post, basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul Jabbar presented a compelling defense of the quarterback’s silent protest, which has met with controversy, most of it from whites.
“What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem,” he wrote, “but that nearly 50 years after Ali was banned from boxing for his stance (on the Vietnam War) and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists (supporting the black power movement at the Olympics in 1968) caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities. Failure to fix this problem is what’s really un-American here.”
President Barack Obama seemed to concur, when he pointed out that Kaepernick is only the latest in a long line of athletes trying to highlight issues of social justice. “I’d rather have young people who are engaged in the argument and trying to think through how they can be part of our democratic process than people who are just sitting on the sidelines not paying attention at all,” Obama said.
We hope more athletes will sit — or kneel — in support of Kaepernick, until his message becomes too ubiquitous to ignore.
What could be more patriotic than trying to better our nation?
A Wisconsin legislator announced a “Blue Lives Matter” bill Monday to make targeting law enforcement officers a hate crime in the wake of the Dallas shooting that killed five officers last week.
Rep. David Steffen, a Green Bay Republican, said he believes the law enforcement community deserves the additional protection of hate crime laws, adding Wisconsin to a growing list of states discussing similar bills.
Louisiana became the first state to enact a Blue Lives Matter law in May, allowing prosecutors to seek stronger penalties when police, firefighters and emergency medical crews are intentionally targeted because of their professions. Lawmakers in at least 13 other states and in Congress have floated similar proposals.
Blue Lives Matter laws have failed in four states and is pending in five others and in Congress, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lawmakers in at least four other states have said they plan to introduce similar legislation but haven’t officially done so.
Steffen said his proposal is “a small, single step” that Wisconsin can take to “reinforce its commitment” to supporting and protecting law enforcement officers.
But Republicans in Madison have cut back severely on revenue sharing with cities, which has made it more difficult for municipalities to maintain an adequate number of police officers and fire fighters. Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011–13 budget cut shared revenue by 9 percent, the biggest cut in at least a decade.
The cuts endanger safety both for professionals and the public.
The reduction in shared revenue are partly the result of massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Wisconsinites. About 78 percent of Walker’s tax cuts have gone to the state’s top 0.2 percent of earners.
But civil rights organizations and activist groups have criticized Blue Lives Matter bills for other reasons, saying a person’s profession should not be included with race, religion and other characteristics that are protected under hate crime laws.
Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said police officers and their families won’t be helped by “a heighted sense of victimization.”
“We should recognize the stress they confront, but piling on by claiming that there is a war against police, or that the law isn’t already penalizing attacks on police severely, does a disservice to everyone,” he said in an emailed statement.
In Wisconsin, people convicted of a crime can face an enhanced penalty if they targeted the victim based on their race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry. If deemed a hate crime, the penalty for a felony can carry an additional $5,000 fine and an additional five years in prison. The penalty increase for misdemeanors deemed hate crimes depends on the severity of the crime, possibly including additional jail time and thousands of dollars in additional fines.
Steffen’s Blue Lives Matter bill, which he plans to formally introduce in January, would extend hate crime protection to law enforcement officers.
“Law enforcement isn’t just some profession. It is one upon which our quality of life largely depends,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the state’s largest police union.
Palmer said the legislation would send an important, symbolic message, but that the Legislature could do other things to better protect officers and support law enforcement, including ensuring adequate staffing and improved training. He said legislation to protect law enforcement and efforts to resolve problems between officers and their communities shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.
Hillary Clinton delivered the following remarks at the African Methodist Episcopal Church National Convention in Philadelphia.
Giving all praise and honor to God.
Thank you for that welcome, and for letting me be a part of this anniversary celebration for the AME Church. I want to thank Bishop Green as well as Bishop Bryant, Bishop White, Bishop Ingram, Bishop Young, Bishop McKenzie, Bishop Jackson, Dr. Richard Allen Lewis, Sr., Reverend Dr. Jeffery B. Cooper, Sr., Bishop Snorton, Reverend Vincent and the AME General Conference Choir, which I had the great pleasure of hearing from backstage.
There is no better place to mark this milestone for the AME Church than right here in Philadelphia, the city where this church was founded by a former slave 200 years ago.
Today, we join to celebrate your esteemed history, the leaders and congregants who built this community and kept it strong, and your legacy of service. You seek to meet what the Book of Micah tells us are the Lord’s requirements for each of us: “To do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
As President Obama has said, the church is the “beating heart” of the African American community. This is the place where people worship, study, grieve and rejoice without fear of persecution or mistreatment. That is a precious thing, my friends, in this world. I know that, from my experience as a lifelong Methodist, how important my own church community has been to me.
So I come here today, first and foremost, to say thank you. Thank you for being part of this historic institution, and for carrying its work forward, as Bishop Green said. I also come tonight as a mother, and a grandmother to two beautiful little children. And like so many parents and grandparents across America, I have been following the news of the past few days with horror and grief.
On Tuesday, Alton Sterling, father of five, was killed in Baton Rouge — approached by the police for selling CDs outside a convenience store. On Wednesday, Philando Castile, 32 years old, was killed outside St. Paul — pulled over by the police for a broken tail light. And last night in Dallas, during a peaceful protest related to those killings, there was a vicious, appalling attack. A sniper targeted police officers. He said he wanted to hurt white people. Twelve officers were shot, along with two civilians. Five — five — officers have died. We now know all their names: Brent Thompson, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, and Patrick Zamarripa. And as I was on my way here today, we heard reports of another shooting yesterday morning in Tennessee.
What can one say about events like these? What can people and leaders of faith say about events like these? It’s hard, isn’t it, even to know where to start. But let’s start here — let’s take a moment to pray for all the families and the loved ones suffering today. For Alton’s grieving children. For the four-year-old girl who bravely comforted her mother while Philando died in front of them. For the families of those police officers who lived every day with the fear that something like this could happen, and will always be proud of their service and sacrifice.
We pray for those families, and for the souls of everyone we lost this week and in all weeks preceding. May they rest in God’s peace.
Now, there are many unanswered questions about each of these incidents. We will learn more in the days ahead. And when we know as much as we can, there must be a just accounting.
For now, let’s focus on what we already know — deep in our hearts. We know there is something wrong with our country. There is too much violence, too much hate, too much senseless killing, too many people dead who shouldn’t be. And we know there is clear evidence that African Americans are much more likely to be killed in police incidents than any other group of Americans.
And we know there is too little trust in too many places between police and the communities they are sworn to protect. With so little common ground, it can feel impossible to have the conversations we need to have, to begin fixing what’s broken. We owe our children better than this. We owe ourselves better than this.
No one has all the answers. We need to find them together. Indeed, that is the only way we can find them. Those are the truest things I can offer today. We must do better, together. Let’s begin with something simple but vital: listening to each other. For Scripture tells us to “incline our ears to wisdom and apply our hearts to understanding.”
The deaths of Alton and Philando are the latest in a long and painful litany of African Americans killed in police incidents — 123 so far this year alone. We know the names of other victims, too:
Brandon Tate-Brown, whose mother Tanya is here today, and who was killed not far from here a year and a half ago.
Tragically, we could go on and on, couldn’t we. The families of the lost are trying to tell us. We need to listen. People are crying out for criminal justice reform. Families are being torn apart by excessive incarceration. Young people are being threatened and humiliated by racial profiling. Children are growing up in homes shattered by prison and poverty.
They’re trying to tell us. We need to listen.
Brave police officers are working hard every day to inspire trust and confidence. As we mourn the Dallas police officers who died and pray for those wounded, let’s not forget how the Dallas Police Department in particular has earned a reputation for excellence. They’ve worked hard for years to improve policing and strengthen their bonds with the community. And they’ve gotten results.
Police officers across the country are pouring their hearts into this work, because they know how vital it is to the peace, tranquility, justice, and equality of America. They’re trying to tell us. And we need to listen.
People are crying out for relief from gun violence. We remember Reverend Clementa Pinckney, eight congregants at Mother Emanuel in Charleston — and thousands more killed every year by guns across our nation. Things have become so broken in Washington that to just try to get a vote on compromise gun safety reforms, John Lewis himself had to stage a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Gun violence is ripping apart people’s lives. They’re trying to tell us. And we need to listen.
I know that, just by saying all these things together, I may upset some people. I’m talking about criminal justice reform the day after a horrific attack on police officers. I’m talking about courageous, honorable police officers just a few days after officer-involved killings in Louisiana and Minnesota. I’m bringing up guns in a country where merely talking about comprehensive background checks and getting assault weapons off our streets gets you demonized.
But all these things can be true at once. We do need police and criminal justice reforms, to save lives and make sure all Americans are treated equally in rights and dignity. We do need to support police departments and stand up for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. And we do need to reduce gun violence. We may disagree about how to do all these things, but surely we can all agree with those basic premises. Surely this week showed us how true they are.
Now, I have set forth plans for over a year to reduce excessive violence, reform our sentencing laws, support police departments that are doing things right, make it harder for the wrong people to get their hands on guns. For example, there are two important steps that I will take as president.
First, I will bring law enforcement and communities together to develop national guidelines on the use of force by police officers. We will make it clear for everyone to see when deadly force is warranted, and when it isn’t. And we will emphasize proven methods for de-escalating situations before they reach that point.
And second, let’s be honest — let’s acknowledge that implicit bias still exists across our society and even in the best police departments. We have to tackle it together, which is why in my first budget, I will commit $1 billion to find and fund the best training programs, support new research, and make this a national policing priority. Let’s learn from those police departments like Dallas that have been making progress, apply their lessons nationwide.
Now, plans like these are important. But we have to acknowledge that — on their own — they won’t be enough. On their own, our thoughts and prayers aren’t enough, either. We need to do some hard work inside ourselves, too.
Today, there are people all across America sick over what happened in Dallas, and fearful that the murders of these police officers will mean that vital questions raised by Alton’s and Philando’s deaths will go unanswered. That is a reasonable fear. Today, there are people all across America who watched what happened in Dallas last night and are thinking, no frustration with the police could ever justify this bloodshed. How did we get here? And is there more to come? That’s a reasonable fear, too..
It is up to all of us to make sure those fears don’t come true. We cannot, we must not vilify police officers. Remember what those officers were doing when they died. They were protecting a peaceful march. They were people in authority, making sure their fellow citizens had the right to protest authority. And there is nothing more vital to our democracy than that. And they died for it.
Ending the systemic racism that plagues our country — and rebuilding our communities where the police and citizens all see themselves as being on the same side — will require contributions from all of us. White Americans need to do a better job of listening when African Americans talk— talk about the seen and unseen barriers you face every day. We need to try, as best we can, to walk in one another’s shoes — to imagine what it would be like if people followed us around stores, or locked their car doors when we walked past. Or if every time our children went to play in the park, or went for a ride, or just to the store to buy iced tea and Skittles, we said a prayer — “Please, God — please, God — don’t let anything happen to my baby.”
And let’s put ourselves in the shoes of police officers, kissing their kids and spouses goodbye every day and heading off to a dangerous job we need them to do. When gunfire broke out yesterday night, and everyone ran to safety, the police officers ran the other way — into the gunfire. That’s the kind of courage our police and first responders show every single day somewhere across America. And let’s remember — let’s think about what Dallas Police Chief David Brown said this morning. He said, “Please join me in applauding these brave men and women, who do this job under great scrutiny, under great vulnerability, who literally risk their lives to protect our democracy.” He went on to say, “We don’t feel much support most days. Let’s not make today most days.”
Let’s remember that — not just today but every day.
Let’s ask ourselves, what can I do? What can I personally do to stop violence and promote justice? How can I show that your life matters to me? That I have a stake in your safety and wellbeing?
Elie Wiesel, who died last week, once clarified for us that “the opposite of love is not hate — it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death — it’s indifference.” None of us can afford to be indifferent toward each other — not now, not ever. And I’m going to keep talking about these issues with every audience. And if I’m elected, I’ll start working on this on day one — and keep at it every single day after that.
I want you to know the 24-hour news cycle moves on — I won’t. This is so important to who we are, what kind of nation we are making for our children and our grandchildren. As President Obama said yesterday, and as we all know in our hearts to be true: We are better than this. And if we push hard enough, and long enough, we can bend the arc of history toward justice. We can avoid that choice that Dr. King posed for us between chaos and community.
So yes, this is about our country. It’s also about our kids. There’s nothing more important than that. And I think it’s about our faith. We have a lot of work to do. We don’t have a moment to lose. But I would not be here tonight if I did not believe we can come together with a sense of shared purpose and belief in our shared humanity, and if I did not know we must, because truly we are stronger together. Not separated into factions or sides; not shouting over each other about who matters more or who has more cause to be upset; but together, facing these challenges together. And if we do this right and have the hard conversations we need to have, we will become even stronger — like steel tempered by fire.
Fierce debates are part of who we are — just like freedom and order, justice and security — complementary values of American life. They are not easy. They challenge us to dig deep, and constantly seek the right balance. But in the end, if we do that work, we will become a better nation. If we stand with each other now, we can build a future where no one is left out or left behind, and everyone can share in the promise of America — which is big enough for everyone, not to be reserved for a few.
But we know something — we know that work is hard, don’t we? I’m calling on this historic church, and all of our churches, to think hard about what special role you can play. Every day, you teach and show us about the Golden Rule and so much else. Why can’t we really believe in and act on it? To treat others as we would want to be treated.
In the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, St. Paul extols the virtues of faith, hope, and love for our fellow human beings. He says we need them all in this life, because of our imperfections: we “see through a glass darkly” and only “know in part.” He proclaims love the greatest virtue, necessary to keep faith and hope alive and to give us direction.
I’ve tried to say for some time now that our country needs more love and kindness. I know it’s not the kind of thing presidential candidates usually say. But we have to find ways to repair these wounds and close these divides. The great genius and salvation of the United States is our capacity to do and to be better. And we must answer the call to do that again. It’s critical to everything else we want to achieve — more jobs with rising income; good education no matter what ZIP code a child lives in; affordable college; paying back debts; health care for everyone. We must never give up on the dream of this nation.
I want to close with a favorite passage — a passage that you all know — that means a great deal to me and I’m sure to many of you, from Galatians. “Let us not grow weary in doing good” — “for in due season, we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”
My friends, let us not grow weary. Let us plan the path forward for all of God’s children. There are lost lives to redeem, bright futures to claim. Let us go forth — go forward, Bishop — with a sense of heartfelt love and commitment. And may the memory of those we’ve lost light our way toward the future our children and grandchildren deserve.
Thank you, AME, and God bless you.
In response to the nationwide concern on police-involved shootings, including the death of Dontre Hamilton, and calls to address the strained relationship between local law enforcement and the people they serve, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, introduced the Preventing Tragedies Between Police and Communities Act of 2016. This legislation would require de-escalation training in our police academies across the country with an overarching focus on preserving life through enhanced training.
A statement from Rep. Moore:
As a mother, grandmother, and elected representative, I personally took the untimely death of Dontre Hamilton to heart. Dontre wasn’t just my constituent, but a member of our community, yet sadly, his story is not unique. Too many young men and women in this country are unreasonably struck down by the very people who swore an oath to protect them. Too many mothers have been forced to bury their children and too many Americans have shared a fate similar to that of Dontre’s.
Upon hearing the news of this young man’s passing, I made a promise to myself and his mother, Maria Hamilton, that his death would not be in vain. This, coupled with the boisterous feedback from my constituents, led me to draft the Preventing Tragedies Between Police and Communities Act of 2016. This bill would give local law enforcement officials the valuable tools and training they need to safely and effectively patrol our streets with a strong emphasis on preserving life, drawing from several ‘best practices’ and recommendations from the Police Executive Research Forum.
We all know that police serve a vital role in upholding public safety and improving the quality of life of communities. Let us not forget the trauma that officers experience in being involved in a violent altercation, especially one that results in the loss of life. It is my sincere hope that my bill will not only help protect our citizens, but also also assist those responsible for keeping us safe and who routinely put their lives on the line everyday. I have confidence that this legislation will garner bipartisan support and will help restore the much needed faith and trust that has been compromised between the public and the police who serve them.
As of Dec. 26, police had killed 1,186 people since the year 2015 began, according to the website killedbypolice.net, which lists all the victims’ names and links to news reports of their deaths.
The Washington Post puts the number of Americans shot dead by police in 2015 at 965, but the Post only included shootings that involved an on-duty police shooting to death a civilian. The Post reported 62 of the deaths occurred in the past 30 days.
The Post did not include people in police custody, fatal shootings by off-duty officers, or police killings that did not involve firearms.
Police killed more than 1,100 civilians in 2014. Twenty-seven police were killed in the line of duty that year.
The latest high-profile police shooting occurred over the weekend in Chicago, when police fatally shot a 19-year-old man and 55-year-old woman, according to The Associated Press. The event again put a spotlight on one of the nation’s largest police departments and raised complaints that CPD officers are too quick to use deadly force.
Once again, activists called for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The holiday weekend shootings follow the Nov. 24 release of video showing white Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. The release of the video sparked persistent protests, forced the resignation of the city’s police chief and led to a wide-ranging civil rights investigation of the entire Chicago Police Department by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Murders at a historically black church in the South.
Arsons at temples, mosques and chapels.
Police killings of unarmed black men and teens.
Citizens pledging allegiance to a Confederate flag.
Politicians seeking to build a wall to the south and proposing to ban people of an entire faith from entering the country.
Courts and lawmakers rolling back voting rights.
And even the revelation that a fictional civil rights legend to many was first a racist.
In 2015, there were celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and tributes to the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, but racism overran the nation — and no one could claim it was a hidden factor of American life.
In 2015, the path to Martin Luther King’s dream was littered with barriers and Black Lives Matter proved to be more than a fleeting campaign.
In January, President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union to the nation: “We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many and that on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.
“We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.”
But the events of 2015 would reveal that Americans don’t agree that the right to vote is sacred or entirely understand a father who fears for his son’s safety on the streets.
Obama, in the State of the Union address, looked back to an earlier speech in which he said there is no liberal or conservative America, no black or white America, but a United States. But the United States was not united in 2015 and all the signs suggested greater division to come, as polarization in the two parties deepened.
In February, the U.S. Justice Department released its report on the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014 and complaints of race-based bias against the police department. Shortly afterward, the president, commemorating the anniversary of the Selma march, said it would be a mistake is “to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished. … We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.”
Open ears heard Donald Trump officially enter the presidential race and ride to the top of the polls in his party largely on the popularity of racist rants.
Open hearts ached after a white supremacist killed nine people attending a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the mourning was followed with a serious feud, mostly in the South, over the appropriateness of public institutions flying the Confederate flag.
Open eyes read news of each development in police killings of black men and black teenagers in Baltimore, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland and also in Madison, where there were no charges brought against the white officer who killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr., and in Milwaukee, where a white officer was fired but not charged in the shooting of Dontre Hamilton in April 2014. In fact, the latter officer was granted disability pay.
The year ended with a focus on Chicago, where a white police officer was indicted for first-degree murder more than a year after he fatally shot a black teen 16 times. Protesters marched on city hall, the courthouse, the state center and the Magnificent Mile to demand the ouster of the police chief, Cook County’s chief prosecutor and the resignation of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the release of a dashcam video showing the teenager moving away from the officer as he was shot.
In mid-December, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would investigate patterns of racial disparity in the use of force by Chicago police officers. The wide-ranging probe could lead to calls for sweeping changes at one of the country’s largest police departments and elsewhere in 2016.
President Barack Obama ended long-running federal transfers of some combat-style gear to local law enforcement on May 18 in an attempt to ease tensions between police and minority communities, saying equipment made for the battlefield should not be a tool of American criminal justice.
Grenade launchers, bayonets, tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber or higher will no longer be provided to state and local police agencies by the federal government under Obama’s order.
“It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message,” he said.
Obama made his announcement in Camden, New Jersey, where he praised efforts by the police department to improve their relationship with a poor community struggling with violence.
With police under increased scrutiny over highly publicized deaths of black suspects nationwide, Obama also unveiled the final report of a task force he created to help build confidence between police and minority communities. And he issued a broader appeal for Americans to address racial disparities and the needs of poor communities before they erupt into disorder.
He also reiterated his call for overhauling sentencing practices for nonviolent drug crimes.
“We can’t ask the police to be the ones to solve the problem when there are no able-bodied men in the community or kids are growing up without intact households,” he said.
In Camden, Obama visited the police Real-Time Tactical Operational Intelligence Center and watched live video displays of city neighborhoods being monitored by officers. He also stopped by a community center where he met with young people and local police officers.
Ahead of his Camden remarks, Obama stopped briefly in nearby Philadelphia to praise its police and fire officials for their quick response to last week’s deadly Amtrak wreck.
In addition to the prohibitions in his order, Obama also is placing a longer list of military equipment under tighter control, including wheeled armored vehicles like Humvees, manned aircraft, drones, specialized firearms, explosives, battering rams and riot batons, helmets and shields. Starting in October, police will have to get approval from their city council, mayor or some other local governing body to obtain such equipment, provide a persuasive explanation of why it is needed and have more training and data collection on its use.
Programs that transfer surplus military-style equipment from the Pentagon and other federal agencies have been around for decades, but Congress increased spending to help departments acquire the gear in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.
The issue of police militarization rose to prominence last year after a white police officer in Ferguson fatally shot unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown, sparking protests. Critics questioned why police in full body armor with armored trucks responded to dispel demonstrators, and Obama seemed to sympathize when ordering a review of the programs that provide the equipment.
“There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred,” Obama said in August.
The review, published in December, showed five federal agencies spent $18 billion on programs that provided equipment, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles and 616 aircraft. At the time, the White House defended the programs as proving to be useful in many cases, such as the response to the Boston Marathon bombing. Instead of repealing the programs, Obama issued an executive order that required federal agencies that run the programs to consult with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to recommend changes that make sure they are accountable and transparent.
The report from the 21st Century Policing task force has a long list of recommendations to improve trust in police, including encouraging more transparency about interactions with the public. The White House said 21 police agencies nationwide, including Camden and Philadelphia, have agreed to start putting out never-before released data on citizen interactions, like use of force, stops, citations and officer-involved shootings. The administration also is launching an online toolkit to encourage the use of body cameras to record police interactions. And the Justice Department is giving $163 million in grants to incentivize police departments to adopt the report’s recommendations.
Sacramento, California, Mayor Kevin Johnson, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, praised Obama’s actions, saying they “show how serious he is about doing this now and doing this right.”
Police advocacy groups in Wisconsin objected to a painting displayed at the Madison Public Library on May 1 that shows an African-American boy pointing a toy gun at three riot police officers who have their weapons aimed at the child, calling it inflammatory and biased.
Artist Mike Lroy said the piece — acrylic and spray paint on canvas, entitled “Don’t Shoot” — is meant to stir emotion and provoke reflection.
The criticism comes as demonstrations endure nationwide to protest the killings of black suspects by white police officers, most recently the death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody. In March, a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed biracial man in Madison, sparking demonstrations.
The Wisconsin Professional Police Association and the Madison Professional Police Officers Association issued a joint statement saying they are “deeply troubled” by the artwork.
The “storm trooper portrayal of officers who appear to threaten a small child only serves to advance patently negative law enforcement stereotypes,” the groups said.
Lroy defended his art.
“Art is a positive outlet for expression, emotion and activism,” Lroy said in a description posted next to the painting, adding that his aim is “to empower black individuals who are feeling angry, forgotten, and demonized by the mainstream narrative.”
The organizations said to demand that it be removed would not be an appropriate response to free speech, but that they wanted to exercise their own right to be heard.
“This is a sensitive time in our community,” said WPPA executive director Jim Palmer, calling the display “inflammatory, negative, stereotypical and a slap in the face.”
Madison Public Library director Greg Mickells said the piece is displayed in partnership with 100 State, an entrepreneur incubator organization that supported three artists in residence.
“Some of the work will reflect a wide range of views, expressions and interests and may be unorthodox or controversial. The library’s display of these items doesn’t constitute endorsements,” Mickells said.
Mickells said library staff knew the artwork would have an impact and that they hoped it would provoke dialogue. He said he would invite the police groups to publish their own statement which could be displayed next to the piece. Palmer said he would take him up on that offer.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne is weighing whether to file criminal charges against city of Madison police officer Matt Kenny, who shot and killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson. Kenny was responding to calls that Robinson had assaulted two people and was running in traffic. Police said Robinson attacked Kenny inside an apartment house.