The president of one of the largest police organisations in the US has apologised for historical mistreatment of minorities, calling it a “dark side of our shared history” that must be acknowledged and overcome.
The reaction from leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement was mixed, saying words needed to be backed by actions, while the head of an officers’ union in Minnesota said there was no need to apologise.
Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said at the group’s annual conference that police have historically been a face of oppression, enforcing laws that ensured legalised discrimination and denial of basic rights. He was not more specific.
Cunningham said today’s officers are not to blame for past injustices. He did not speak in detail about modern policing, but said events over the past several years have undermined public trust.
His comments come as police shootings of black men have roiled communities in Ferguson, Missouri; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and suburban St Paul, Minnesota; and as black shooters have targeted officers in Dallas, the St Louis suburb of Ballwin and Baton Rouge.
“While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future,” Cunningham said. “We must forge a path that allows us to move beyond our history and identify common solutions to better protect our communities.
“For our part, the first step in this process is for law enforcement and the (International Association of Chiefs of Police) to acknowledge and apologise for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of colour,” he said.
Cunningham received a standing ovation for his remarks before he introduced US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who largely avoided the topic.
He has been police chief since 1999 in his hometown of Wellesley, Massachusetts, an affluent, overwhelmingly white, low-crime suburb near Boston. He served three years as vice president of the police chiefs association before becoming president in 2015 for a one-year term.