President Barack Obama met with controversial black pastor Rev. Al Sharpton on Monday at the White House, amid word that he would demand $263 million from Congress to put 50,000 body-worn cameras in U.S. police departments and train local cops to better use surplus military equipment.
The moves came in response to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Sharpton called the get-together 'a historic meeting that the president and vice president sat with all of us and law enforcement to commit to not just another commitment, another study ... but that he would put his full weight behind it.'
'We live in a country that we must support law enforcement but law enforcement must support justice,' he said.
In a brief statement to the press, Obama said that the Brown shooting in Ferguson 'laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis ... and that is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color.'
'He cited civil rights leaders' opinion 'that in a country where one of our basic principles, perhaps the most important principle, is equality under the law, that too many individuals – particularly young people of color – do not feel as if they're being treated fairly.'
Rev. Al Sharpton spoke Sunday during a church service in the parking lot at The Flood Christian Church, a house of worship that rioters burned last week in the wake of a grand jury's decision not to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black man.
Brown's parents have pushed body-worn cameras as one way to limit distrust between police and criminal suspects following physical encounters. The White House said in August that it agreed with the idea in principle.
'We support the use of cameras and video technology by law enforcement officers, and the Department of Justice continues to research best practices for implementation,' the administration wrote in response to a public petition that attracted more than 154,000 supporters on the White House website.
The new initiative will provide 50 per cent of the funding for cameras, but will not pay for them entirely, at a cost of $75 million.
It will also provide new training resources and funds to study how to reform police practices.
It's unclear why Officer Darren Wilson didn't wear a camera during his fateful encounter with Brown. Members of the Ferguson Police Department were photographed wearing body cameras later that month during an August 30 rally.
Obama has a jam-packed day with three separate meetings to discuss the deteriorating situation.
He also announced Monday that he wants the Pentagon and Congress to review the program that puts surplus military hardware in the hands of state and local law enforcement.
The White House is pushing a new torrent of public messages about the death of Brown, a young black man, at the hands of Wilson, a white officer.
Meetings with cabinet officials, with a group of 'young local and national civil rights leaders,' and with top law enforcement officials are on the president's official Monday schedule.
Speculation ran rampant on Twitter that Sharpton would attend the civil rights meeting, and his representatives confirmed it just before lunch.
Sharpton, a community-organizer-turned-minister-turned-TV-host, is a frequent White House visitor and has appeared in Ferguson. On Sunday he preached at the St. Louis church where Michael Brown's funeral service was held.
'The fight ain't over,' he told a capacity crowd.
Alicia Garza, a special projects director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance and a co-founder of the emblematic 'Black Lives Matter' movement, tweeted a cautionary note.
'Obama – meeting with Al Sharpton isn't what's going to change conditions. Those days are LONG GONE,' she wrote.
Black communities, especially in Ferguson, have complained that the federal government is arming their local police to the point where they more resemble paramilitary armies than law enforcement agencies.
But on the nights following a grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Wilson, rioters burned buildings and looted stores while shots rang out. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was criticized later for not deploying the Missouri National Guard, a fully militarized force, in downtown Ferguson.
Obama said during an August 18 press conference that it would be 'useful for us to review how the funding was done, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what they're purchasing is stuff that they actually need.'
'There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don't want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our tradition,' he said then.
Earnest said Monday that the president would appoint a new task force, led by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, to study what the White House has called 'best practices' in policing.
That task force will have 120 days to report back to the White House. Its work is expected to focus on alleged disparities between the treatment of blacks and whites at the hands of sworn officers.
2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
3 Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
4 The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.