One day after eulogizing five police officers killed in an attack in Dallas last week and also in the wake the deaths of two black men killed by police officers, President Barack Obama today brought together law enforcement leaders and civil rights and Black Lives Matter activists at the White House complex for a “conversation” on community policing and criminal justice reform.
After the more than four-hour meeting, the president said that while there has been progress on data and outreach by the administration's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, he acknowledged "the bad news" is they are not close to where they want to be with communities of color.
"Not enough just for us to just have task force," Obama said. "We have to push this out into communities so they feel ownership for some of the good ideas that have floated around this table."
The meeting did produce a list of priorities, which the president said everyone agreed on, including building on confidence and shaping best practices, working with police departments on training and de-escalation, and putting together data to inform people on law enforcement actions in a "system of accountability."
The president said that the problem won't be solved overnight but they can set up respectful discussions.
"Not only are there very real problems but there are still deep divisions about how to solve these problems," he said. "There is no doubt that police departments still feel embattled and unjustly accused. And there is no doubt that minority communities, communities of color, still feel like it just takes too long to do what's right."
"This pace of change is going to feel too long for some and too short for others," he added.
And he said it isn't enough to just have the task force, but they must include communities and have them feel ownership to help connect the deep divisions that exist.
"We have to, as a country, sit down and just grind it out. Solve these problems. If we have that sort of sustained commitment I’m confident we can do so," he said.
Among those invited is prominent Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, who was arrested over the weekend during a protest in Baton Rouge, the city where Alton Sterling was shot and killed by a police officer outside a convenience store last week.
Other big names in the meeting include civil rights figure and president of the National Action Network Rev. Al Sharpton, NAACP President Cornell Brooks, Black Lives Matter Minnesota activist Mica Grimm, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and National Association of Police Organizations President Michael McHale.
Also present are members of the president’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which the president launched in 2014 to make recommendations for improving relations between communities and the law enforcement departments charged with their protection.