Obama hosts meeting with police, activists in wake of shootings

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama on Wednesday hosted a meeting focused on how to bridge the divide between police officers and the black and Hispanic communities after a series of high-profile police killings sparked fresh protests throughout the country.

The United States is “not even close” to resolving issues between police and the communities they serve, Obama said after concluding a more than three-hour meeting at the White House that brought community activists, politicians and law enforcement officials around the same table.

He nevertheless expressed optimism and said the participants – who included members of the Black Lives Matter movement – agreed such conversations need to continue despite anger in the streets and police stations.

“The conversation that took place around this table is very different than the one that you see on a day-to-day or hourly basis in the media,” Obama said.

The meeting came a few days after a black Army veteran killed five police officers in revenge for police shooting black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the Minneapolis suburbs.

On Tuesday, Obama attended a memorial service for the five slain Dallas officers and called the families of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota to offer condolences.

Obama has called for the country to come together and not give in to despair and division after the shootings and angry street protests from Atlanta to Los Angeles.
He laid out a series of steps that could help to improve relations between law enforcement and communities, including improving data collection and updating police training practices.

‘We are talking past each other’

Those invited to the White House included some police organisations that have little regard for Black Lives Matter, a group they blame for inciting violence against police officers.

Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana and Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul, Minnesota, the two locations where police shootings sparked protests around the country, also attended the meeting.

Mayors from Los Angeles, Newark, New Jersey, and Anaheim, California, were also invited. From the administration, Attorney General Loretta Lynch joined the president.

“At a time when our country, when we are talking past each other, the president’s convening allowed us to hear one another,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Also on the list were Mica Grimm, with Black Lives Matter Minnesota, and DeRay Mckesson, who was arrested Saturday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on a charge of obstructing a highway.

Police said Mckesson “intentionally” placed himself in the road after protesters were repeatedly warned to remain on private property or the curb. Mckesson was released from jail Sunday.

Police groups and activists emerged from the meeting saying they didn’t always agree with each other on the issues, but they did agree the meeting was productive and could lead to building trust and improving accountability in police departments