AG highlights rising tension between police, minority communities
Lynch says people want more law enforcement transparency
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told a gathering of African-American and Latino journalists that marginalized communities are demanding more accountability from law enforcement officials.
Speaking as part of a NABJ/NAHJ Newsmaker panel to discuss acts of violence involving police and civilians, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer highlighted the need for reform as tensions between the two sides continue to rise.
“We need a system that’s not just about accountability but also transparency,” Lynch said Thursday. “We want to see the records. That is the current challenge for law enforcement.”
The police killings of civilians in several cities the last two years, particularly among black men, have sparked unrest in communities including Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore and were the catalyst for the national Black Lives Matter movement.
Lynch said the relationship between law enforcement and the community needs to start being addressed at the grassroots level in the wake of such deaths.
“People on both sides need to know who they are talking to,” she said. “It’s essential to build that relationship before something happens. There’s a desire for accountability for police from marginalized communities.”
She said the power of the Department of Justice can be influential in helping to find solutions for the unrest between police and underprivileged communities.
“The issues choose you,” she continued. “When Freddie Gray and the unrest in Baltimore began, it forced these conversations up to the forefront. The focus really began over two years ago.”
Lynch felt the events this past July have shed light on tensions between two communities who are fighting to start the conversation.
Detroit has written the playbook on how to build a relationship between police and community in recent years, said Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who also spoke on the panel.
“Community policing is not talking to the community,” Craig said. “It is talking with the community.”
Former Philadelphia police commissioner Tim McDonald detailed how essential it is to focus on policing within educational institutions as well.
McDonald said that Philadelphia has made a more concerted effort to address how police interact with students.
“With the school to prison pipeline, — 1,600 kids would be killed every year in Philly,” McDonald said. “The majority were black kids. Now the system has progressed from 1,600 to 500.”
U.S. Education Secretary John King emphasized the need to make sure schools have resources to provide a quality education to students. He also said low-income students should have an opportunity to be challenged.
“Schools have a responsibility to react when a racially toxic environment is created,” King said. “As educators, there’s a responsibility to help young people grapple with their world.”
He said President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative is one of several policies implemented to address policies some view as systemically racist.
Smartphones and social media have brought more attention to the tension between police and citizens, with several killings by officers videotaped and shared on the internet.
“Social media has allowed us to see the prejudices and biases,” said Wesley Lowery, a reporter for the Washington Post. “We live in a systemically racist society and law enforcement is not immune from that.”
Lowery said law enforcement officers are suffering from a fundamental lack of community and police officers have struggled to adapt to the immediacy of social media.
“It’s hard for people to buy into a criminal justice system that allows police to take rights from us,” he continued. “If people don’t trust the system broadly, there’s no way you can have a credible system.”