U.S. police chiefs group apologizes for ‘historical mistreatment’ of minorities
By Tom Jackman
Oct 17 2016
The president of America’s largest police organization on Monday issued a formal apology to the nation’s minority population “for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”
Terrence M. Cunningham, the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass., delivered his remarks at the convention in San Diego of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, whose membership includes 23,000 police officials in the United States. The statement was issued on behalf of the IACP, and comes as police executives continue to grapple with tense relationships between officers and minority groups in the wake of high-profile civilian deaths in New York, South Carolina, Minnesota and elsewhere, the sometimes violent citizen protests which have ensued as well as the ambush killings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
Police chiefs have long recognized the need to maintain good relations with their communities, of all races, and not allow an us-versus-them mentality to take root, either in their rank-and-file officer corps or in the neighborhoods where their citizens live. Cunningham’s comments are an acknowledgement of police departments’ past role in exacerbating tensions and a way to move forward and improve community relations nationwide. Two top civil rights groups on Monday commended Cunningham for taking an important first step in acknowledging the problem.
“Events over the past several years,” Cunningham said, “have caused many to question the actions of our officers and has tragically undermined the trust that the public must and should have in their police departments…The history of the law enforcement profession is replete with examples of bravery, self-sacrifice, and service to the community. At its core, policing is a noble profession.”
But Cunningham added, “At the same time, it is also clear that the history of policing has also had darker periods.” He cited laws enacted by state and federal governments which “have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks…While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational — almost inherited — mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies.”
Cunningham continued, “While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future…For our part, the first step is for law enforcement and the IACP to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”
He concluded, “It is my hope that, by working together, we can break this historic cycle of mistrust and build a better and safer future for us all.”
Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, applauded Cunningham’s statement. “It seems to me that this is a very significant admission,” Robinson said, “and a very significant acknowledgement of what much of America has known for some time about the historical relationship between police and communities of color. The fact someone high in the law enforcement community has said this is significant and I applaud it because it is long overdue. And I think it’s a necessary first step to them trying to change these relationships.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said, “I think Chief Cunningham correctly identifies the need to acknowledge and apologize as a first step, and I don’t want to diminish how important the first step is,” because many police organizations have been reluctant to grapple with racial issues. She said the Legal Defense Fund has been speaking with the IACP about the role the Legal Defense Fund can play in improving policing. “They know that there’s a problem,” Ifill said. “They know that it’s a complicated and difficult one. They know there are problems in their own departments. And now we’re trying to take tentative steps toward what we hope will be productive measures.”