Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are pressing President Obama to install new sensitivity training requirements for the nation's police officers.
Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) says the high-profile deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcers – including August's fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Clay's own district – are clear indication that local police forces need more guidance in their approach to minorities and various other groups.
In a speech at American University in Washington Tuesday night, Clay said he used a meeting between Obama and CBC members earlier in the day to urge the president to require any local law enforcement agency receiving grants through the Department of Justice (DOJ) to certify "that all officers in their department have completed diversity training as it relates to minorities, the disabled, mentally ill persons and new immigrants whom they are sworn to protect and serve."
"These tragedies have illuminated, with the harsh light of truth, the deep divisions and very real disparities that we have yet to overcome as a nation," Clay said, according to the prepared remarks.
CBC leaders are also pushing a series of legislative reforms, including efforts to fund more police body cameras; require independent prosecutors in cases when police use deadly force; and rein in a federal program that arms local police with surplus military weapons.
Republican leaders have shown little interest in those proposals, however, and CBC leaders are hoping Obama will use his executive authority to adopt some criminal justice reforms in the case of congressional inaction.
Leaving the Tuesday meeting with Obama, CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) told reporters that criminal justice reform was a central focus of the discussion.
"We've got to make sure that police act ethically and legally as they administer their duties," Butterfield said. "And we told the president that we need to have some form of police training, not just body cameras – body cameras are not going to get the job done.
"It's certainly a step in the right direction, but we've got to have ways of getting better police officers on the street," he added. "And the way you do that is with community policing and training – sensitivity training."