The president of a police-chiefs association apologized Monday for the role that police have played in society’s “historical mistreatment of communities of color.”
Speaking at the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in San Diego, the association's president, Terrence Cunningham, said that when it comes to how officers relate to minority groups, they cannot change the past, but they must change the future.
“While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future. We must move forward together to build a shared understanding. We must forge a path that allows us to move beyond our history and identify common solutions to better protect our communities,” Cunningham said.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Cunningham’s speech at the San Diego Convention Center drew a standing ovation. Cunningham, who is the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass., avoided directly mentioning protests over recent police shootings by name; he also did not mention the targeted shootings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La.
Also not mentioned was the Black Lives Matter movement, which has criticized modern-day police tactics and the extrajudicial shootings of black Americans by the police.
Cunningham’s speech focused on the past, when police did the work of ensuring legalized discrimination during the Jim Crow era.
"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,” Cunningham said. “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.”
Cunningham acknowledged that history has led to mistrust between police and communities of color, but he cautioned that today’s officers are not responsible for the actions of the past:
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. Overcoming this historic mistrust requires that we must move forward together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. All members of our society must realize that we have a mutual obligation to work together to ensure fairness, dignity, security and justice. 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.
The full video of Cunningham’s speech is available at NBC News.
Campaign Zero co-founder DeRay Mckesson told NBC News that he looks forward to seeing Cunningham’s comments backed up by deep structural changes to policing and the criminal-justice system.
Charlene Carruthers, national director for the Chicago-based BYP100, told NBC News that an apology does not go far enough. Carruthers said that a major step toward solving the problem is taking financial resources away from law enforcement and redirecting them to community-based programs.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch also spoke at the conference to promote the Justice Department’s efforts to collect data on deaths in custody and police shootings, a process that she says will convey an accurate picture of what’s happening out in the field.
“Better information helps everyone,” Lynch said.