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Milwaukee Police Chief Calls on President Obama to Continue Conversation on Race and Policing

Megan Dobyns
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn (file photo)

Milwaukee Chief of Police Edward Flynn was one of the invited speakers addressing President Obama Thursday night, at a town hall meeting convened by ABC News

Flynn told Obama that a number of factors complicate the relationship between police and communities of color. For instance, he says officers serve in places where crime is high, while trust in police is low:

"For the urban police chiefs in America, we are primarily judged by our ability to lower levels of violence in disadvantaged communities of color. But in those neighborhoods there's easy access to firearms, to which you've alluded, and there are extraordinary rates of violence. Nationally, African Americans represent 51 percent of our homicide victims, but 13 percent of the population. In our cities, it's more like 80 percent. And like most homicides, offenders look like the people that they victimize. It's an urban tragedy, but the heart of the police dilemma is those neighborhoods that demand our services, need us the most, request us the most, depend upon us the most, for social and historical reasons distrust us. And when there's a series of critical incidents like we've recently seen, that distrust is in high relief. We can't protect them effectively if we're not trusted."

When talking about the challenges police face because of the ready access to firearms, Flynn referred to the shooter who killed five officers in Dallas last week:

"Many of our cities are in states that are dominated by interests that act like the cities are the enemy. State legislators want to help us? Help us do something about guns. What was that man doing with an assault rifle? I mean, fine, go to the funeral of the five cops, but how did that guy get that assault rifle and why could he walk down the street with it and then use it, OK? That requires some political courage and requires mass movements. There's a lot of moving pieces here."

President Obama has talked often lately about race and policing. Yet Chief Flynn urged Obama to continue the discussion beyond his time in the White House. Flynn says the complex issue will take a long time to resolve, and Obama could use his prestige -- and unique place in history -- to make a difference.

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