Speaking in Chicago yesterday, President Obama told a room of some 14,000 police chiefs from around the country that he has nothing but respect and admiration for what police officers do, but added that he himself has been subjected to police harassment on more than one occasion simply because he’s black:
“There were times when I was younger and maybe even as I got a little older, but before I had a motorcade — where I got pulled over. And I confessed… most of the time I got a ticket, I deserved it. I knew why I was pulled over. But there were times where I didn’t. And as a report that came out just this week reminded us, there are a lot of African-Americans–not just me–who have that same kind of story of being pulled over, or frisked, or something. And the data shows that this is not an aberration. It doesn’t mean each case is a problem. It means that when you aggregate all the cases and you look at it, you’ve got to say that there’s some racial bias in the system.”
The President also noted that there needs to be a balance between respect for the law and those who enforce it and respect for those who are being policed. But he said he knows reaching that goal won’t be accomplished overnight:
“Now, look, I’m not naïve. I’m not suggesting that any of this is easy. A lot of times it means more resources for police departments because it’s more labor intensive. If you want that kind of community policing, then you got to have enough police to be able to do that because it takes time to do more than just respond to a call. And I don’t want to suggest that we’re ever going to eliminate all misunderstanding or stereotypes between police officers and minority communities. It’s certainly not going to happen overnight. And it’s especially tough because there’s more crime in these communities, which means that the police are interacting with them more than they are in some fancy neighborhoods.”
Personally, I’m thankful the President decided to address this issue while there were members of the police in the audience. It’s way past time for us to realize that respect is indeed a two-way street, and that those who wear badges and carry guns should indeed be respected, but that respect must be earned. Too many bad cops have eroded the trust that should exist, and this is especially true in minority communities.
If we see those who are duty-bound to enforce the law abusing their power, it is only a matter of time before we lose all faith in their ability to their job in a fair and impartial manner. And that is a recipe for disaster.