More Police Accountability Just One Piece of the Puzzle

One of the most encouraging signs in the wake of nationwide protests urging an end to police brutality has been a concrete, substantive discussion on how to move forward.

Last week, the White House and the Department of Justice pushed for a series of measures designed to improve the way police interact with communities of color, particularly with African American men and boys. The tragic death of Eric Garner, caught on camera, also brought together unlikely allies in calling for action.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) joined the efforts to push for more transparent policing, increased sensitivity training for law enforcement agencies, and community engagement. It also backed President Obama's request to acquire body cameras for police officers, which might not have helped in the Garner case, but could have added clarity in the deaths of Michael Brown and, more recently, Tamir Rice.

Along with peaceful protests, constructive action is absolutely vital to long-term solutions in how law enforcement agencies operate, particularly in how they interact with African Americans and other minority groups. These accountability measures are just one step -- their implementation and a more holistic approach to changing the relationships between police and the populations they are tasked to serve must follow.

I know firsthand how even the best proposals meet their demise through inaction, having worked nearly a decade ago on a commission designed to deal with racial disparities in education, criminal justice, and economic opportunity in the city of Wilmington. The commission included business leaders and both Delaware's current governor and congressional representative (at the time, they were the state Treasurer and lieutenant governor, respectively).

The proposals included community policing, which is now a buzzword in the wake of the heightened media coverage of fatal encounters between police and unarmed black men. Unfortunately, the commission's report was never enacted in its entirety, and Wilmington still has some of the same issues involving distrust between law enforcement and minority communities.

This is why any community policing effort and calls for accountability must be accompanied by follow-through, patience, and a willingness to acknowledge that the often adversarial relationship between police and minority communities will take years to change. At the very human level, we have to accept that even those who go into law enforcement with the best of intentions get changed. Two of my friends in college (one Black, one Latino) became police officers, and within a few years of starting, became jaded from their experiences and cynical about the communities they served.

Similarly, young men and women of color I've mentored continue to feel they can't ever trust the police, even if their own relatives are officers. These attitudes, both from police and community members, can only change with sustained engagement -- not simply town halls that have little long-term impact.

Additionally, the community policing initiative will likely have a better chance at succeeding if it takes a more comprehensive approach to the needs of diverse communities. This includes helping to address racial and religious profiling, understanding the cultural sensitivities of diverse groups, and ensuring that both community members and police are stakeholders in keeping their neighborhoods secure and stable.

That would require the willingness of police agencies and those they serve to acknowledge that transforming these tensions requires an equal buy-in to change. While it's still too early to predict whether these changes will take place, I'm at least hopeful that we're moving in the right direction.