Terrence M. Cunningham, the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass, and the president of America’s largest police management organization, announced a formal apology to the nation’s minority population this week.
Cunningham delivered his remarks at the convention in San Diego of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, whose membership includes 23,000 police officials in the United States. He said in part:
There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens. In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans.
While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multi-generational—almost inherited—mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies. Many officers who do not share this common heritage often struggle to comprehend the reasons behind this historic mistrust. As a result, they are often unable to bridge this gap and connect with some segments of their communities.
While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future. We must move forward together to build a shared understanding. 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 IACP to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.
At the same time, those who denounce the police must also acknowledge that today’s officers are not to blame for the injustices of the past. If either side in this debate fails to acknowledge these fundamental truths, we will be unlikely to move past them. Overcoming this historic mistrust requires that we must move forward together in an atmosphere of mutual respect. All members of our society must realize that we have a mutual obligation to work together to ensure fairness, dignity, security, and justice.
It is my hope that, by working together, we can break this historic cycle of mistrust and build a better and safer future for us all.