U.S. President Barack Obama Monday asked Congress for $263 million to reform police departments around the country, including equipping more police officers with body cameras for recording their exchanges with private citizens. The spending package is to help increase transparency in U.S. law enforcement and repair what many have said is a fractured relationship between police and the communities they serve.
The president’s request came on the heels of last week’s grand jury decision against indicting Ferguson, Missouri, Police Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in August. The shooting of Michael Brown, 18, led to months of sometimes violent protests regarding the nature of policing in the U.S. Some witnesses claimed Brown was surrendering when he was killed; however, Wilson maintained he shot Brown in self-defense. A grand jury tasked with deciding whether to indict Wilson on murder charges ultimately sided with the embattled police officer. Wilson resigned from the police department during the weekend.
Obama scheduled three meetings Monday with his Cabinet, law enforcement, and elected officials and community leaders at the White House to talk about issues related to the events in Ferguson. The president will create a Task Force on 21st Century Policing through an executive order. Among other things, the White House has earmarked about $75 million of the increased spending for roughly 50,000 small, lapel-mounted cameras to be worn by police, something that could help foster trust of law enforcement as well as help settle disputes between police and witnesses.
“These are programs that Congress directed the agencies to implement, so our focus was on … identifying exactly how they operate,” a senior White House official said Monday during a conference call with reporters, according to Politico. “Ultimately, what [we] found is that the most important thing is to make sure that what Congress authorized -- and all of these programs are statutorily authorized -- has the impact of strengthening local policing and strengthening security in local communities.”
Obama is “open” to visiting Ferguson following the grand jury’s decision, but has not yet made specific plans to travel there, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Ferguson protesters Monday staged a “die-in” in Washington that blocked traffic on the 14th Street bridge during rush hour, WRC, Washington, reported. About 20 people created a human chain across the bridge that connects Arlington, Virginia, to the nation’s capital. Demonstrators held signs with messages like “Black Lives Matter” and “Shut It Down,” and chanted. The protest was part of a national “Hands Up Walk Out” movement aimed at bringing attention to issues of police brutality. It follows several protests last week aimed at disrupting Black Friday sales events in some cities.