OAKLAND — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder hosted a community roundtable discussion on improving police-community relations in Oakland this morning with local politicians, police chiefs, activists and community and business leaders.
The discussion was the sixth and final one on the subject during a tour Holder has made to cities nationwide in an effort to share best policing practices and find ways to build trust between communities and law enforcement and increase the integrity of the justice system.
While numerous local officials and community leaders were invited to attend the roundtable, including representatives of local high schools and at least one participant in recent protests against killings of black people by police officers, it was not open to the public and news media members were asked to leave after opening remarks by Holder, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
The meetings were part of the Obama Administration’s response to massive nationwide protests over police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York. Holder said it is the first time a president has taken on reforms in local law enforcement since the Johnson Administration.
“We cannot squander this opportunity,” Holder said.
He said the recent outrage has given the country an opportunity to have a conversation on issues of police-community relations and to make necessary changes in law enforcement.
The reforms the Obama Administration is working on include re-examining the distribution of military equipment to local law enforcement agencies and making sure it’s appropriate to their needs, encouraging the use of body-worn cameras on officers and making racial profile reforms to federal law enforcement agencies and hoping local agencies follow suit, Holder said.
Lee said the country has arrived at a “critical defining moment … to really help formulate some real systemic and institutional reforms.”
The theme of trust was addressed again and again in the three politicians’ opening remarks. To restore trust that might be broken in some communities, particularly minority communities, the goal of law enforcement should be to reduce crime but also make sure laws are being enforced fairly, Holder said.
Schaaf praised the reform work by the Oakland Police Department — most of which has been done slowly under the oversight of a federal judge as part of a settlement in a civil rights case.
“We have made tremendous strides but we need to do more. We need to do more to close that trust gap,” Schaaf said. “We’ve got to do more to earn back that trust of the people we’re put here to serve.”
Of Oakland, Holder said, “I can’t think of a better place to end this tour.”
Oakland and the East Bay is a place where there have been particularly large and frequent demonstrations over police use of force, despite the focal points of the recent protests happening elsewhere.
“This is a community that is known for not being shy about expressing its views,” Holder said.