President Obama met Tuesday with families of slain police officers while in Chicago to try to persuade law enforcement officials to work more closely with communities they police.
But he also met with the families of children who have died in Chicago’s epidemic of violence as he attempts to focus attention on all victims — police and community alike.
While expressing sympathy, Obama also told the more than 14,000 police chiefs and others gathered that more could have been done for victims of violence.
“When I meet with these families, I can’t honestly tell them that our country has done everything we could to keep this from happening again, from seeing another officer shot down, from seeing another innocent bystander suffer from a gunshot wound,” Obama said.
Obama has met with victims’ families before and has paid tribute in statements and speeches to fallen police officers several times during his presidency. But his meetings Tuesday with family members of both officers and civilians were designed to emphasize that the tragedies are not limited to either police or community members.
Some 32 police officers have been shot to death this year, the president said, and at least a dozen children have been shot to death this month in the U.S. He cited the statistics after the morning meetings in a speech to the annual gathering of the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police.
As part of an Obama administration push for criminal justice reform, the president is urging law enforcement officials to reevaluate and try to improve their relationships with the communities they police.
At the same time, Obama renewed his call for tougher gun safety laws, with a special emphasis on the safety of police officers.
Lax gun laws don’t mean more freedom; they mean more fallen officers, Obama said, pledging to ask Congress again to reconsider failed attempts to pass gun safety legislation.
“If they don’t,” Obama said, “I’m going to keep calling on Americans to change the folks in Congress until they get this right.”
SOURCE: Christi Parsons
The Los Angeles Times
President Obama told a gathering of police chiefs in Chicago Tuesday that they can reduce violent crime while also being more sensitive to minority communities.
“I reject any narrative that seeks to divide police and communities that they serve. I reject a storyline that says when it comes to public safety there’s an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ — a narrative that too often gets served up to us by news stations seeking ratings, or tweets seeking retweets, or political candidates seeking some attention,” Obama told the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Obama said police officers have helped make America safer, “and that’s something for which every American should be proud.” But he also called for “a serious and robust debate over fairness in law enforcement, over our broader criminal justice system when it comes particularly to communities of color.”
Obama stopped in Chicago on a national tour to urge Congress to make changes in the criminal justice system. But he also addressed three of the most controversial topics in law enforcement: police use of force in in minority communities, the spiking violence in some urban areas, and the mass shootings that have triggered renewed calls for fun control efforts.
Those debates have put Obama on a tightrope as he’s defended the “Black Lives Matter” movement while also encouraging police to continue to attack violent crime.
In his speech to police, Obama said that police officers “want to do the right thing.”
“Too often, law enforcement gets scapegoated for the broader failures of our society and criminal justice system. I know that you do your jobs with distinction no matter the challenges you face. That’s part of wearing the badge,” he said.
Obama also called on Congress to pass gun safety measures, noting that more than 400,000 Americans have been killed in gun violence since 2001. “That’s like losing the entire population of Cleveland or Minneapolis over the past 14 years,” he said. And 32 police officers have been shot and killed just this year, he said.
“I know we won’t all agree on this issue. But it’s time to be honest. Fewer gun safety laws don’t mean more freedom, they mean more fallen officers,” he said.
Obama said he doesn’t want to take everybody’s guns away.
“Every time a mass shooting happens, one of the saddest ironies is that suddenly the purchase of firearms and ammunition jumps up because folks are scared into thinking that Obama is going to use this as an excuse to take away our Second Amendment rights. Nobody is doing that. We’re talking about common-sense measures to make sure criminals don’t get them, to make sure background checks work, to make sure that we’re protecting ourselves.”
He also dismissed a critique of gun control policies that point to Chicago as an example of failed gun laws. “They say, well, look, Chicago had a spike in homicides this year, they’ve got gun safety laws, so this must be proof that tougher gun safety laws don’t help, maybe make things worse,” Obama said. “The problem with that argument, as the Chicago Police Department will tell you, is that 60% of guns recovered in crimes come from out of state. You’ve just got to hop across the border.”
Obama did not address another argument that many cities — including Chicago — are seeing a spike in gun violence as part of what some are calling the “Ferguson Effect.”
FBI Director James Comey put his weight behind that theory last week, saying that protests following a fatal police shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Mo. last year have sent “a chill wind that has been blowing through law enforcement over the past year, and that wind is surely changing behavior.”
The White House does not agree, spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters en route to Chicago. “The available body of evidence does not support the notion that law enforcement officers around the country are shying away from doing their jobs,” he said.
SOURCE: Gregory Korte