By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
The news was startling. When I first saw the story on Facebook, I didn’t immediately accept it as truth. One of the least reliable sources on the planet for breaking news is social media. So I crosschecked three legitimate news sources to confirm.
It was true. The head of a major U.S.-headquartered group – representing senior police worldwide – acknowledged and apologized for law enforcement’s past actions and role in America’s “historical mistreatment” of minorities.
Terrence Cunningham, who heads the police force of Wellesley, Mass., made the apology as president of the nonprofit International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) during the group’s convention in San Diego on behalf of the organization.
Membership in this group exceeds 23,000 U.S. police chiefs, as well as senior officers from dozens of countries across the globe.
Cunningham reportedly spoke of multi-generational, virtually inherent, “mistrust between U.S. minorities and police, according to the Washington Post, saying that the first step in “changing the future” of that relationship was “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.”
This is significant. If there is a precedent for a major law enforcement authority making such concessions to African Americans, I’m not aware of it.
Traditionally, the opposite is true. Whenever there is a complaint about police mistreatment of the Black community, it is generally met with contempt and defensiveness, if not confrontational, responses for the law enforcement community. Middle ground on this sensitive subject has been rare.
It will take adjustment in thought from both sides of the issue, as he points out.
Cunningham also noted that “those who denounce the police must also acknowledge that today’s officers are not to blame for the injustices of the past,” and concluded, the Post said, by hoping that all sides can work together to “break this historic cycle of mistrust and build a better and safer future for us all.”
The Post reports that Cunningham’s speech received a standing ovation by IACP members at the meeting.
Civil rights leaders, including representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, as well as the Rev. Al Sharpton, welcomed Cunningham’s remarks, reports the Post. However, the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents more than 300,000 U.S. law-enforcement officers, criticized Cunningham’s speech.
Ironically, Black Lives Matter also offered a more tepid response to the gesture. Cunningham seemed to anticipate some skepticism. The order’s national president Chuck Canterbury told the Post, “Apologies do not adequately address the current issues facing law enforcement and the communities that we serve.”
This represents progress. Genuine progress.
No, it’s not the emancipation proclamation and yes, only time will tell how this sentiment trickles down to the street and impacts Black people’s experiences in real-life settings. But as the longest journey begins with the first steps, so does the possibility of revolutionary change beginning with a few minds coming together. And while it may not be as large as the FOP, 23,000 folks are more than a few.
If nothing else, be encouraged by the fact that finally a group of law enforcement people aren’t blaming the victims for the problem. Be encouraged that someone in a position of power is willing to say what’s right even when the audience is expanded beyond the object of his intent. Be encouraged that someone, somewhere is talking about Black people with empathy. That doesn’t happen that often any more.
We will see where it goes. I don’t know about you, but I choose to be encouraged by the possibilities.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].