The International Association of Chiefs of Police is meeting in San Diego this week, and President Terrence M. Cunningham decided to use his speech to talk about race.
In an address titled “The Law Enforcement Profession and Historical Injustices,” Cunningham, who is also the chief of police for Wellesley, MA, apologized on behalf of his profession for past incidents of police racism:
For our part, the first step in this process 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.
But he was also pretty clear that police weren’t the ones actually being racist, it was the law’s fault.
At the same time, it is also clear that the history of policing has also had darker periods.
There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens. In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans.
More interesting than Cunningham’s interpretation of the past is his take on the present. His self-described “darker period” is apparently “no longer the case.” It would seem that we’re all good on race now.
At the same time, those who denounce the police must also acknowledge that today’s officers are not to blame for the injustices of the past. If either side in this debate fails to acknowledge these fundamental truths, we will be unlikely to move past them.
Cunningham’s speech likely came from a place of good intentions and a genuine desire to try and do something about mistrust of police. But he’s not going to win anyone over by saying essentially things used to be bad, now they’re all good, we’re moving on, why can’t you?
Here are some Fusion headlines from the last six months that came up when I searched the site for stories about police.
- A Chicago cop was just indicted on civil rights charges for the first time in over a decade
- Georgia police issue arrest warrant for white officer who allegedly lied about being shot by a black man
- Cop loses two law enforcement jobs after posting a racist Snapchat
- Philadelphia police investigating after viral photo of cop with tattoo of apparent Nazi insignia
- Miami-area police union tells officers not to escort Dolphins players over national anthem protests
- This Baltimore police officer called Black Lives Matter activists ‘thugs’ in an email to the entire department
- Video shows Fresno police shooting unarmed teenager
- Protests over killing of Philando Castile
- Graphic video shows police shooting Alton Sterling
- Police mocked a black Army veteran as he lay dying on a jailhouse floor, according to lawsuit
I could keep going, but I really do need to end this article at some point.