The tragic death of George Floyd is but the latest manifestation of the painfully unfinished work of narrowing the racial divisions that plague our society. As far back as 1997, the Baker Institute sought answers when African American leaders and police chiefs from across the United States met to determine how to improve strained relations between law enforcement and the African American community. The summit participants — led by Lee P. Brown, then a senior scholar at the Baker Institute and former police chief of Houston and New York, as well as drug czar during the Clinton administration who later served as Houston’s mayor — made the following recommendations:
- Cultural awareness and diversity training for all levels of law enforcement.
- An increased focus on community policing, including enhanced community involvement in local policing and increased empowerment of officers to solve problems in the communities they serve.
- Better communication and engagement with African American youth, including the development of a youth citizen academy and youth police commission.
- Working with the media to ensure the accurate portrayal of police work and the African-American community.
- An emphasis on the role of the police chief as a community leader.
- An evaluation of hiring and recruitment practices to ensure officers are capable of an unbiased enforcement of law.
- The appointment by the president of a national commission on race in America, in which African American leaders would join law enforcement representatives on the commission to ensure the concerns of all parties were addressed.
These recommendations are as valid today as they were in 1997. Some have been implemented, others have not. But 23 years after their publication, highly publicized incidents of police abuse continue to spur widespread protests and, in less volatile times, lingering distrust between minority communities and the police. It is high time to move beyond speeches and protests to concrete and practicable steps and solutions.
Read the 1997 policy report “Police and the African American Community: Building Bridges to the Future.”