by Thomas Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department
The statement from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) at their annual conference in San Diego has been described as “historic” and “significant” in acknowledging and apologizing for “actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.” This apology is “historical” in coming from an organization that has long remained mute in the face of the oppression, racism, discrimination, violence and criminal wrongdoing that have characterized policing for many black and brown men and women in the United States.
Terrence Cunningham, the IACP President, offered, “There have been times when law enforcement officers…have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens,” but “that this is no longer the case.” (Author emphasis). And so, according to Cunningham, “today’s officers are not to blame for the injustices of the past,” as if what has gone on in Baltimore; Ferguson, Missouri; Chicago; New York City; Cleveland; Waller County, Texas; North Charleston, South Carolina; Washington, DC; Charlotte, North Carolina; Baton Rouge; Tulsa; and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, since 2014, is some distant, forgettable and forgivable part of the history of long ago and far away.
Observers and commentators have called Cunningham’s remarks a commendable first step and it is. And one should acknowledge that the IACP necessarily needs to frame its “apology” in terms that are palatable to the 800,000 law enforcement officers who work in the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. Words need to be chosen very carefully so as not to offend the sensitivies of the members of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) who are suffering the debilitating symptoms of the so-called “Ferguson Effect,” while simultaneously fighting the so-called “War on Cops.”