When Michael Brown, a Black teenager, was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, a special White House panel quickly offered up a wave of reforms expected to help guide law enforcement through the most fraught encounters.

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing produced 59 recommendations, following testimony from 140 witnesses.

“Building trust and legitimacy on both sides of the police-citizen divide is not only the first pillar of this task force’s report but also the foundational principle underlying this inquiry into the nature of the relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” the study group concluded. 

Obama with Laurie Robinson, right, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law, & Society at George Mason University, and Charles Ramsey, left, then commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, during a meeting  about his Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Just six years later, the findings in what was then regarded as a landmark analysis of modern policing have been obscured in a new wave of deadly actions that have renewed calls for re-examining American law enforcement. 

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, found guilty Tuesday for the murder of George Floyd, now represents only one exhibit in a growing body of evidence in which police officers’ use of lethal force faces unprecedented public scrutiny, condemnation and demands for change.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, in a statement immediately after the verdicts, said the decisions represented a new era of police accountability to end the “recurring and enduring deaths at the hands of law enforcement.”  

Derek Chauvin listens as a verdict is read during the trial of Derek Chauvin of the death of George Floyd at the courthouse in Minneapolis on April 20, 2021.

‘We haven’t learned anything’

During the 14-day Chauvin trial, new images of fatal police encounters in Chicago, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota and elsewhere have competed with the now-familiar video clips of Floyd pleading for his life while pinned under Chauvin’s knee.

“It’s like we haven’t learned anything,” said Philip Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University who studies crimes involving police. “I don’t know if we’ve made any meaningful progress” since the 2015 White House policing report.



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