At a town hall meeting in Philadelphia last week after a man was shot to death by police, residents shouted at Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and pointed fingers in his face, reports the New York Times. Metal folding chairs were hurled. Protesters tussled with police officers. There were 10 arrests. After a series of fatal shootings of unarmed African-Americans by officers, police departments have engaged in an unusual public self-examination, trying to break away from images of them as hostile, occupying armies and mend their relationship with the public, particularly African-Americans.
This is not so easy, even in a city like Philadelphia where the mayor, district attorney and police chief are black. The police are trying to grapple with years of accumulated mistrust and anger in many poor, minority neighborhoods that suffer the brunt of criminal activity and negative interactions with the police. “The mission we've adopted for the police in recent years has been that police need to be aggressively deployed and confronting people who are deemed suspects in high-crime neighborhoods, which invariably means young people of color,” said Jonathan Simon of the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California, Berkeley. “That is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”