DENVER, Colo. - In an unprecedented move, the head of an international policing organization has apologized for the historical mistreatment of minorities.
The apology comes amid tension between law enforcement and communities across the country — from North Carolina, to Oklahoma, to California.
"Clearly this is a challenging time for policing," said Terrance Cunningham, head of the International Associations of Chiefs of Police.
Cunningham addressed those challenges head on at a national policing conference, saying leaders have to figure out the best way to move forward.
"The first step in this process is for the law enforcement profession 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," Cunningham said.
Cunningham went on to say past laws adopted at the federal state and local level required officers to perform unpalatable tasks like ensuring legalized discrimination.
"While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational, almost inherited, mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies that serve them," Cunningham said.
The NAACP's Legal Defense Fund tweeted the apology is a "Good 1st step. Some next steps: Require anti-bias training; discipline officers who engage in bias policing."
But Lieutenant Bob Kroll, head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, called Cunningham's statement "asinine," telling the Associated Press "We've got officers dying on almost a daily basis now because of this environment, and statements like that don't help."
Cunningham said it can be difficult for some officers to understand mistrust in some communities, and those who denounce the police must stop blaming them for injustices of the past.
"We obviously cannot change the past it is also clear that we must change the future," Cunningham says.
The National President of the Fraternal Order of Police released a statement saying apologies don't address underlying issues such as urban decay, unemployment and homelessness.
The NAACP released the following statement:
"The NAACP commends IACP President Terrence M. Cunningham for having the courage of candor to begin a meaningful dialogue about the role police have played in racialized violence against African-Americans and other people of color. The statement takes an important step by recognizing that attitudes towards modern-day policing are informed by a history in which police have often been enforcers of laws that perpetuate inequality.
However, in order to transform the relationship between communities of color and police, we must fully embrace the reality of where we are beginning. We must be specific and precise about the harms that have been done. On this point, Mr. Cunningham's statement falls short.
First, it fails to recognize that the police have been willing participants in the harms caused to our communities. This is not just a matter of police officers being "required . . . to perform many unpalatable tasks" but of police departments choosing to use the sacred trust provided by the people to perpetuate inequality and violence against African-Americans. This can be seen from historical records of police sanctioning and even participating in lynchings to modern-day examples of police departments engaging in racially discriminatory behavior.
Mr. Cunningham's statement also incorrectly places law enforcement's role in perpetuating inequality in the past tense. From examples like the U.S. Department Justice's recent report about police behavior in Baltimore, to the court findings about the operation of stop-and-frisk in New York City, there is ample evidence that law enforcement continues to play a role in perpetuating racial inequality. In order to move forward, we must fully recognize this fact.
At the same time that we honor the men and women who have devoted their lives to making our communities safer, we must hold them to the standards that are fundamental to our democratic ideals: equal treatment for all whom police are sworn to protect and serve."