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President Obama Meets with Ferguson Activists and Announces Policing Reforms

Following the non-indictment of former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, the White House announced a national plan for police reform.

via Austen Hufford
via Austen Hufford

On Monday, President Barack Obama announced a plan that involves $75 million to equip 50,000 police officers with body cameras. The plan for body cameras is part of a larger initiative to better train and equip law enforcement that budgets for $263 million in three years. There are around 460,000 sworn officers in local police departments throughout the US. Earlier that day, Obama had asked federal agencies to come up with recommendations to make sure the US is not creating a “militarized culture.”

The same day, US Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech that he will announce updated guidance for the Justice Department regarding profiling by law enforcement.

“[The Justice Department’s new guidance] will institute rigorous new standards and robust safeguards to help end racial profiling, once and for all,” Holder said. “This new guidance will codify our commitment to the very highest standards of fair and effective policing.”

Obama also requested a meeting that took place this week with Ferguson activists. Ashley Yates, co-founder of Millennial Activists United, said Obama requested the meeting because the movement “cannot be ignored.”

“We have two sets of laws in America – one for young Black and Brown people, and one for the police,” Yates said. “We are sick and tired of our lives not mattering, and our organized movement will not relent until we see justice.”

Ferguson protesters have suggested body cameras are one way to start the process of police reform by helping identify racial discrimination. Currently, a black man in the US is four times more likely to be arrested for possession for marijuana than a white man – and 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police. Of all people who were shot dead by police where the circumstance is recorded as “undetermined,” 77 percent were black. Colin Loftin, co-director of the Violence Research Group and professor at University at Albany, told ProPublica more data is needed to paint a better picture of racial discrimination in the US, but that the data currently available is “certainly relevant.”

“No question, there are all kinds of racial disparities across our criminal justice system,” Loftin said. “This is one example.”

“It is a crisis when a Black American can get locked up for traffic fines, but police officers are rarely prosecuted for killing unarmed children,” Rasheen Aldridge, director of Young Activists United St. Louis and one of the activists who met with Obama this week, said. “Black communities have suffered under racially biased policing and unconstitutional law enforcement policies for far too long. This has to stop.”

Media Resources: The St. Louis American 12/2/2014; ABC News 12/2/2014; PolicyMic 12/1/2014; CBS News 12/1/2014; ProPublica 10/10/2014; ACLU; Bureau of Justice Statistics

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