The head of the country’s largest police group apologized Monday on behalf of law enforcement for the “historical mistreatment of communities of color.”
Speaking at a conference in San Diego, IACP President Terrence Cunningham acknowledged the challenges police have faced in recent years.
“There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens,” Cunningham said. “In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans.”
Cunningham said this dark side of police history has contributed to a multigenerational mistrust. He said he hopes his comments can help to break down that mistrust, so that police and communities can work towards mutual respect.
“The first step in this process is 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,” he said.
But he acknowledged that the process is a two way street, saying those who denounce police must recognize that today’s officers aren’t to blame for injustices of the past.
At the close of his remarks, officers in attendance gave Cunningham a standing ovation, and the applause didn’t end there. In an interview with the Washington Post, ACLU deputy legal director Jeffery Robinson praised Cunningham’s remarks.
“It seems to me that this is a very significant admission, and a very significant acknowledgement of what much of America has known for some time about the historical relationship between police and communities of color,” Robinson said. “The fact someone high in the law enforcement community has said this is significant.”
Robinson said he thinks it’s a necessary first step. Still, others say Cunningham didn’t go far enough.
“I am unimpressed and underwhelmed,” said Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at the John Jay College Center on Race, Crime and Justice.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Jones-Brown said, “there are bigoted cops today as there were when it was legal to be a bigoted cop.”
She said Cunningham failed to acknowledge how some modern officers bounce from agency to agency after years of misconduct within one or more department.