The recent turn of events involving law enforcement and the communities they serve has arrested the consciousness of the country, especially that of the urban America. A lot people within the respective communities highly object to law enforcement’s handling of the encounters, which has lead to many public displays of disapproval. Some areas and cities have been affected more than others. Public outcry of such situations have been exhibited in the form of protests, lobbying efforts, assembly meetings, and sometimes even violence. The efforts of issue advocacy groups such as, the ACLU, Black Lives Matter and the Community Action Network for accountability have triggered an executive response in which the creation of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing is a part of that. The 21st Century Task Force on Policing was created as an effort to strengthen the relationship with local law enforcement and the people they serve. The Task Force is in its early stages, yet the capacity for it to yield results is pressing and expectations are extensive. On the other hand, not everyone is optimistic that the initiative will even help to remedy such social ills that they feel are profoundly embedded within the fundamental culture of law enforcement.
On January 1st 2009, merely days before Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration an Oakland California resident was killed by a member of the Bart Transit System authorities following a new years’ eve celebration. The victim, Oscar Grant, was twenty-two years old. He was also the first of several cases since Obama’s commencement as president wherein public outrage suggests that members of law enforcement used excessive in the situation. Because of the media focus and public interest garnered around the Grant case the excitement surrounding the country’s electing of the nation’s first Black President was somewhat short lived. Since it inception Obama’s presidency has been embattled with the daunting task of overseeing, as well as, providing transparency about the workings of American justice system. That being said the Road to the Task Force for 21st Century Policing has not been without its bumps. The lack of cohesion over the most impactful way of achieving the goal of empowering communities and strengthening trust with law enforcement has created contentions in certain instances. This is particularly true amongst some community advocates and public officials, proving that for all parities involved the fervor surrounding this issue has come to a head and finding solutions is a process rather than a hasty generalization.
(The audio element below contains content from various community events including the “I’ve Known Rivers Film Festival” held in Los Angles, CA and a screening of the documentary “Afraid of Dark” held at Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum in Culver City, CA.)
The Road to the 21st Century Police Task Force news report contains raw footage of events that have transpired over the course of the past nine months. Events that are included in this content consist of protest, community meetings and forums, as well as interviews. The work of concerned citizens, community activists, and public officials has ultimately brought the topic of police culture and law enforcement reform to forefront of public consciousness. The intent of this report is to analyze such work, as well as raise awareness about the task force’s existence. This is not a premise nor is it to be taken as the litmus used to measure the rationale behind the president’s implementation of the 21st Century Police Task Force. However, it is an analysis of a series of events that speak directly to the initiative and its intended purposes.
The efforts to make atonement not only hopeful rhetoric but also a manifestation continue on almost a daily basis. At a community meeting on Civil Rights attorney Nana Gyamfi talked about how some constitutional amendments, generally unbeknown to the public, constitutes certain actions by law enforcement that can have a direct effect on the local community. Gyamfi suggests that the community becomes more acquainted with the language of the constitution and the social contract it conveys between the general public and governing forces. Gyamfi mentioned the implications of the thirteenth amendment specifically and how individuals who become incarcerated subject themselves to servitude or unpaid manual labor. Gyamfi stated, “… and we see a shift in the criminal justice system that comes from that in which now that particular clause in the 13th Amendment gets used like never before.” The broader issue and the one that has certain communities around the country seemingly most concerned lies within context of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of all naturalized citizens. The amendment states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Considering this clause a lot people feel as though justice has not been served in most of the recent cases involving police shootings.
At the seat of a lot community issues is the state of the respective local economies. On one hand you have the issues of justice but there is also a question of lack of economic opportunities that people within this communities are vying for respectively, thus causing a lot people to be preoccupied with their day to day welfare versus having time to given adequate attention to pressing social issues. During a recent appearance on an episode of the Late Show with David Letterman President Obama addressed such socio-economic issues, as well as the creation of the 21st Century Police Task Force. Obama was quoted saying, “If you have 100 years in which certain communities can only live in certain communities can only live in certain places, or the men in those communities can only get menial labor, or they can’t start a particular trade because it’s closed to them. Or they try to buy a house or a car and it’s more expensive. Over time that builds up. That results in communities where the kids who are born there are not going to have as good of a shot. We don’t have to accuse everybody of racism today to acknowledge that that’s part of our past and if we want to get past this, then we’ve got to make a little bit of extra effort.” In regards to the creation of 21st Century Police Task Force Obama said, “How can we send a message to young people of color and minorities particularly young men, saying your lives do matter, we do care about you, but we’re going to invest in you before you have problems with the police, before there’s the kind of crisis we see in Baltimore?”