President Barack Obama will meet with controversial black pastor and MSNBC host Al Sharpton on Monday at the White House, and plans to demand 263 million from Congress to put 50,000 body-worn cameras in U.S. police departments in response to the August police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Brown’s parents have pushed the cameras as one solution to the distrust between police and criminal suspects following physical encounters. The White House said in August that it agreed with the idea in principle.
‘We support the use of cameras and video technology by law enforcement officers, and the Department of Justice continues to research best practices for implementation,’ the administration wrote in response to a public petition that attracted more than 154,000 supporters on the White House website.
The new initiative will provide 50 per cent of the funding for cameras, but will not pay for them entirely, at a cost of $75 million.
It will also provide new training resources and funds to study how to reform police practices.
It’s unclear why Officer Darren Wilson didn’t wear a camera during his fateful encounter with Brown. Members of the Ferguson Police Department were photographed wearing body cameras later that month during an August 30 rally.
Obama has a jam-packed day with three separate meetings to discuss the deteriorating situation.
He will also announce Monday that he wants the Pentagon and Congress to review the program that puts surplus military hardware in the hands of state and local law enforcement.
The White House is pushing a new torrent of public messages about the death of Brown, a young black man, at the hands of Wilson, a white officer.
Meetings with cabinet officials, with a group of ‘young local and national civil rights leaders,’ and with top law enforcement officials are on the president’s official Monday schedule.
Speculation ran rampant on Twitter that Sharpton would attend the civil rights meeting, and his representatives confirmed it just before lunch.
Sharpton, a community-organizer-turned-minister-turned-TV-host, is a frequent White House visitor and has appeared in Ferguson. On Sunday he preached at the St. Louis church where Michael Brown’s funeral service was held.
‘The fight ain’t over,’ he told a capacity crowd.
Alicia Garza, a special projects director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance and a co-founder of the emblematic ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, tweeted a cautionary note.
‘Obama–meeting with Al Sharpton isn’t what’s going to change conditions. Those days are LONG GONE,’ she wrote.
Missouri Lt. Gov Peter Kinder said Monday morning on the Fox News Channel that Sharpton ‘is an inciter of mobs and he demands mob justice.’
The Pentagon program that supplies military equipment to police forces has moved more than $5.1 billion in gear–including guns, tactical vehicles and even aircraft–since its inception. About $500 million in hardware was passed out this year alone.
But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained during a briefing Monday that ‘the ‘majority of the funds’ spent through those programs ‘has not been used to purchase law enforcement specific equipment.’
He characterized it instead as largely a source for office supplies and other materials that can help a police department run smoothly.
Earnest told reporters that the program should be tweaked to ‘enhance crime prevention while at the same time strengthening the bonds with the communities they are sworn to protect.’
He said the president had no plans to visit Ferguson personally but hadn’t ruled it out.
Black communities, especially in Ferguson, have complained that the federal government is arming their local police to the point where they more resemble paramilitary armies than law enforcement agencies.
But on the nights following a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson, rioters burned buildings and looted stores while shots rang out. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was criticized later for not deploying the Missouri National Guard, a fully militarized force, in downtown Ferguson.
Obama said during an August 18 press conference that it would be ‘useful for us to review how the funding was done, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what they’re purchasing is stuff that they actually need.’
‘There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our tradition,’ he said then.
Earnest said Monday that the president will appoint a new task force, led by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, to study what the White House has called ‘best practices’ in policing.
That task force will have 120 days to report back to the White House. Its work is expected to focus on alleged disparities between the treatment of blacks and whites at the hands of sworn officers.
The White House said in a statement that the president’s cabinet meeting would concern ‘federal programs and funding that provide equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.’
But it did not respond to a request for information about who else, other than Sharpton, would attend its civil rights meeting.
The Associated Press reported that Obama’s meeting with the civil rights community would focus on challenges posed by ‘mistrust between law enforcement and communities of color.’
That topic was a major point of emphasis when the president addressed the nation one week ago as Ferguson burned.
‘The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color,’ Obama said on Nov. 24.
‘Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates.’
‘The good news is we know there are things we can do to help,’ he added. ‘And I’ve instructed Attorney General [Eric] Holder to work with cities across the country to help build better relations between communities and law enforcement.’
Earnest said Monday that it’s ‘an unfortunate irony that in those communities where the crime rate is the highest, sometimes the trust is lowest between the members of the community and the police force.’
Protests have continued in Ferguson, but have been more muted than the violence sparked last week by a grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown after he held up a convenience store.
Wilson resigned his post over the weekend.
Obama’s cabinet meeting will concern ‘federal programs and funding that provide equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies,’ according to the White House.
That has been a front-burner issue since the Ferguson shooting in August, when police showed up in force in military-style vehicles that the Obama and Bush administrations provided through programs that distribute surplus Pentagon equipment.