[guest post by Dana]
Following the turbulence in Ferguson, the president held several meetings today with elected officials, community organizers and… Al Sharpton. The president asked Congress for $263 million, a three-year community policing initiative that would include “funding for up to 50,000 body-worn cameras, expand training for local law enforcement and community-police engagement, and boost federal support for police department reform” and he also established a task force to study how to improve the effectiveness of law enforcement in cities around the country. The task force will report back in 90 days with their findings. Also, the president addressed concerns about the possible militarization of law enforcement and the acquisition of surplus military equipment:
The Obama administration, however, declined to call for shutting down the military equipment transfers, which became controversial after images of well-armed law enforcement attacking demonstrators were broadcast around the world in August. Mr. Obama instead vowed to sign a new executive order tinkering with the program.
“I will be signing an executive order that specifies how we are going to make sure that that program is accountable, how we are going to make sure that that program is transparent and how we’re going to make sure that we’re not building a militarized culture inside our local law enforcement,” Mr. Obama said.
Further, the president made it clear that he believes the issues in Ferguson are the issues of America at large:
This is not a problem simply of Ferguson, Missouri. This is a problem that is national.
“It is a solvable problem, but it is one that unfortunately spikes after one of them and then fades into the background until something else happens. What we need is a sustained conversation in which, in each region of the country, people are talking about this honestly and then can move forward in a constructive fashion.”
In the president’s view, the Brown shooting in Ferguson:
…laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis … and that is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.
He cited civil rights leaders’ opinion ‘that in a country where one of our basic principles, perhaps the most important principle, is equality under the law, that too many individuals – particularly young people of color – do not feel as if they’re being treated fairly.
Sharpton, for his part, referred to the meeting as:
[an] historic meeting that the president and vice president sat with all of us and law enforcement to commit to not just another commitment, another study … but that he would put his full weight behind it.’
‘We live in a country that we must support law enforcement but law enforcement must support justice.
And attempting to convince the public that this is more than just about race, Josh Earnest noted before the meetings:
“The underlying issues here are broader then just race in that this goes to sort of a foundational relationship again between law enforcement agencies and the communities they are sworn to serve and to protect. Surely discussions of race are an important part of that relationship. There is no doubt about that, but its more than just that.”
The twitter feed of Operation Ferguson reveals some positive reactions to the president’s meetings today:
@BarackObama is actually pretty cool #letsgetfree #stl #ferguson2dc @WhiteHouse
And while TDUBB might be impressed, Dana Milbank most amusingly, isn’t:
The grand-jury decision not to charge the white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager in Missouri has given Obama another opportunity to show strong and decisive presidential leadership. And, once again, Obama is using the bully pulpit like a 98-pound weakling. If any more chin-stroking goes on at this White House, the president’s advisers are going to have chafe marks on their jawbones.
Apologies for a big clumsy post, but I wanted to include the highlights of what took place today. More at the various links.