As they strive to solve the public crisis of police use-of-force incidents, illuminated again by the deaths of several black victims last year, officials from the White House on down have coalesced around "community policing." When it comes to influencing the national conversation on a local issue like this, it doesn’t get more official than the U.S. Conference of Mayors, or USCM. The non-partisan organization is comprised of more than one thousand mayors representing the nation’s largest cities. Its mission is to shape national urban policy and the positions adopted at their annual meeting are distributed to the President of the United States and to Congress.
On January 30, the USCM released a report on strengthening "police-community" relations in American cities. The six-page report came full of recommendations for everything from "youth study circles" to new equipment. The report was completed with the help of a working group of police chiefs, including Philadelphia Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the man appointed by President Obama to chair his Task Force on 21st Century Policing in response to rising unrest around around the issue of police brutality.
Absent from their suggestions, however, was a single mention of officer discipline.
A full page is dedicated to the imprecise goal of "Addressing Racial and Economic Disparities and Community Frustration with and Distrust of Governmental Institutions." The use of "distrust," however, is disingenuous. While black citizens do report having less confidence than white ones in police, the overwhelming majority—more than three-quarters—report having some to a "great deal of confidence" in police. Trust isn’t the issue here.
What the #BlackLivesMatter protests made clear is that communities of color are increasingly fed up with the over-policing of our neighborhoods, extrajudicial killings of unarmed black people and the failures of the justice system to hold killer cops accountable. To ignore those complaints and suggest that the issue is merely one of distrust is dishonest, and it evades the very obvious fact that police brutality is a national problem that persists, in part, because cops can get away with it.