Police officers too often ‘scapegoated’ for problems in society, Obama says

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Are cops too often made out to be scapegoats? Obama says yes.

President Obama told a gathering of police chiefs in Chicago Tuesday that they can reduce violent crime while also being more sensitive to minority communities. “I reject any narrative that seeks to divide police and communities that they serve.Obama delivered his speech amid a roiling national debate about officers’ treatment of potential criminal suspects following the deaths of unarmed black men in New York, Missouri and elsewhere by police. “Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society and criminal justice system,” the president said. “I know that you do your jobs with distinction no matter the challenges you face.President Obama’s speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Chicago was always going to require some careful political balancing, but the math got a little trickier over the last few days.President Obama met Tuesday with families of slain police officers while in Chicago to try to persuade law enforcement officials to work more closely with communities they police.

Addressing a group of law enforcement leaders from around the country Tuesday, President Obama suggested that police officers don’t deserve the bad rap they sometimes face and that they are too often blamed for social and cultural matters outside their control. Last week, the president voiced some carefully measured support for the Black Lives Matter movement, saying, “There is a specific problem that is happening in African American communities that is not happening in other communities. But he also met with the families of children who have died in Chicago’s epidemic of violence as he attempts to focus attention on all victims — police and community alike. He said it’s a “narrative that too often gets served up to us by news stations seeking ratings, or tweets seeking retweets, or political candidates seeking some attention.” Obama opened his remarks with a tribute to slain New York City police officer Randolph Holder as hundreds of officers streamed into his wake. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.” A day later, FBI Director James Comey argued in a speech in Chicago that one reason for a spike in violent crime in some cities was the “Ferguson effect,” in which police were reluctant to arrest people for fear of being filmed. (On Monday, Comey said at the IACP conference that he had no hard proof for the idea.) His remarks reportedly irritated Justice Department officials.

While expressing sympathy, Obama also told the more than 14,000 police chiefs and others gathered that more could have been done for victims of violence. “When I meet with these families, I can’t honestly tell them that our country has done everything we could to keep this from happening again, from seeing another officer shot down, from seeing another innocent bystander suffer from a gunshot wound,” Obama said. That set the stage for Obama’s speech Tuesday afternoon, in which he tried to strike a balance between those two perspectives: those of the activists, and those of law-enforcement officers like Comey. “This is … a hard conversation—but if you don’t mind, I’m going to go ahead and have it,” he said. “This is one of the benefits of not having to run for office again.” But the conversation was fairly soft. Obama has met with victims’ families before and has paid tribute in statements and speeches to fallen police officers several times during his presidency. But his meetings Tuesday with family members of both officers and civilians were designed to emphasize that the tragedies are not limited to either police or community members.

Lastly, he spoke about reducing the risks that officers face in the field by introducing the gun safety reforms he’s been asking Congress for since the start of his second term. In his tribute, Obama said, ‘Officer Holder didn’t run toward danger because he thought of himself as a hero, he ran toward danger because he was a cop. Obama also called on Congress to pass gun safety measures, noting that more than 400,000 Americans have been killed in gun violence since 2001. “That’s like losing the entire population of Cleveland or Minneapolis over the past 14 years,” he said. But we can’t expect you to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren’t willing to face or do anything about‚ problems ranging from substandard education to a shortage of jobs and opportunity, an absence of drug-treatment programs, and laws that result in it being easier in too many neighborhoods for a young person to purchase a gun than a book.” Obama also blamed the media for focusing on “the sensational and the controversial.” He added: “The countless acts of effective police work rarely make it on the evening news.” And he said that every profession has bad actors, not just law enforcement, though he criticized the impulse to “close ranks” when police come under scrutiny. Jones’s organization is made up of more than 100 police chiefs, prosecutors, and attorneys general from across the country, and together, they aim to reduce incarceration and strengthen ties among police and their communities.

Even the harsher parts of the speech were fairly tame. “We’ve got to resist the false trap that says either there should be no accountability for police, or that every police officer is suspect, no matter what they do,” he said, delivering to the coup de grace to what must be a straw man: “Neither of these things can be right.” Indeed. Following this month’s deadly shooting at an Oregon community college, Obama also used to appearance to push for new steps to reduce gun violence, such as requiring national background checks for every firearms purchase.

But there were times when I didn’t,” he said, adding that many African Americans felt the same way. “The data shows that this is not an aberration. Before Obama’s last visit to the city to talk to speak about gun violence, in February of 2013, National Review opinion writer Charles Cooke said it ‘defies belief’ for that reason that Obama would use Chicago as a backdrop for his gun control push.

He called for reducing prison populations and working to better retrain prisoners for reentry into street life. (“I can’t thank the chiefs enough here, because a lot of you are out front on this issue.”) He applauded some signs of progress on a bipartisan criminal-justice reform bill on Capitol Hill. (“This is something I don’t get to say very often: I am encouraged by what Congress is doing,” he joked.) He also called for better funding for police to try crime-fighting strategies that are proven to work. Obama said, ‘I understand we won’t all agree on this issue’ and there are regional and local differences in gun culture, but ‘fewer gun safety laws don’t mean more freedom.

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