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Following Ferguson, Obama Urges Changes To Boost Community Policing


The shooting of an 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, raised two sets of questions. One was about the specific facts of Michael Brown's death. A grand jury found Officer Darren Wilson should not be charged while protesters disagreed.


The other set of questions concerns broader relations between police and the public. President Obama wants to address those questions with a set of proposed reforms. Here's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: President Obama spent all day yesterday in meetings with his Cabinet, with law enforcement representatives, mayors and young civil rights leaders. Since the unrest in Ferguson following the grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer, the president has been calling for a larger conversation about community policing.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think Ferguson laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis or that area and is not unique to our time. And that is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.

LIASSON: The president has handled this racially charged situation very carefully, making sure to acknowledge the grievances of the community, but also the reality that police officers are working in dangerous circumstances.


OBAMA: I don't think those realities are irreconcilable. In fact I'm convinced that if we work hard that we can make sure that police officers and the communities they serve are partners in battling crime, partners in making sure everybody feels safe, that we can build confidence and we can build trust. But it's not going to happen overnight, and it's not going to result just from a conversation around a table in Washington.

LIASSON: And the White House did announce a series of concrete steps. It created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The president called on his Cabinet to develop common standards for the federal programs that provide surplus military equipment to local law enforcement, and the president asked Congress for funds to pay for 50,000 new body-worn cameras. Community leaders say that if more police wore the cameras - a kind of GoPro for law enforcement - there would be a more accurate record of incidents like the one in Ferguson. After the meetings, Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, said he was satisfied that the White House would do more than just talk about the issues.

MARC MORIAL: I have never participated in a gathering like the one that took place just now, where the president, the vice president, representatives of police organizations from around the country, mayors of major American cities and civil rights leaders sat at a table together with young leaders who've been on the front-lines in places like Ferguson to have a candid, open, productive, substantive conversation about the issues facing the nation.

LIASSON: If President Obama wanted to make the conversation bigger than Ferguson, his attorney general, Eric Holder, made it even larger. Speaking in Atlanta at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King began his work, Holder said the problems exposed by Ferguson threatened the entire nation.


U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: But the issue - the issue is larger than just the police in the community. Our overall system of justice must be strengthened, and it must be made more fair. In this way, we can ensure faith in a justice system that lacks too much of it now. But without that deserved faith, without that reasoned belief - that reasoned belief, there can be no justice.

LIASSON: Holder has been to Ferguson, and he will be visiting cities around the country to discuss these issues. The White House has not ruled out a trip by President Obama to Ferguson in the future, but for now he will stay in Washington to conduct what he says will be a sustained conversation on race and policing. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.