Obama Hosts Town Hall To Tackle Race and Policing

The prime-time town hall meeting will bring together civil rights leaders, police representatives, and others – including a prominent Texan – for “candid discussions on race relations, justice, policing and equality,” according to a White House press release.

By Rhonda FanningJuly 14, 2016 12:31 pm, ,

Two days after a trip to Dallas to honor five police officers killed during a peaceful protest, President Barack Obama is holding a White House town hall focused on race relations.

Among those participating is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who originally called protestors “hypocrites” for seeking protection during the shooting from the same police they were protesting. He later backed off that comment, saying he could have chosen a better word.

It’s hard to say whether the gathering will spark breakthroughs in community-police relations. Scott Bowman, professor at Texas State University’s School of Criminal Justice, says he’s optimistic about tonight’s forum. Typically, he says, two factions have been visible: one that shows “steadfast support” for the police and one that calls for social justice and accountability of the police.

“Those two groups never seem to come together,” Bowman says. “This will be an opportunity to begin to bridge that gap, hopefully, with some sort of meaningful discourse.”

The call from Dallas police chief David Brown for protestors to join the police force, Bowman says, doesn’t take into consideration the fact that many of those protesting may be excluded from serving as police officers, in part because they may come from the very communities that would preclude them from becoming officers.

“Oftentimes they are systematically excluded,” Bowman says. “While the call may be genuine and it may be heartfelt, it may not be practically or systematically realistic.”

The policing system certainly has its problems, Bowman says, but the issues run deeper than that.

“The problem with the system is really bigger than the police force and the criminal justice system,” Bowman says. “It begins in a lot of way at school… you have kids that are African-American, Latino, poor kids, even LGBT kids… that are more likely to be suspended early and often, in comparison to their white or male or heterosexual counterparts.”

Bowman says the largest issue within the criminal justice system isn’t simply that there aren’t enough minority officers. “Police officers and community members don’t live in the same space,” he says, “and don’t interact in the same way.”

Post by Hannah McBride.