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POTUS Town Hall

Police officers weigh in on Obama’s town hall responses

Hosts Lonnae O’Neal and Sunny Hostin get insight from town hall attendees

After the conclusion of President Barack Obama’s town hall meeting Thursday evening, where he addressed race and policing in America, The Undefeated’s senior writer Lonnae O’Neal and ABC’s senior legal correspondent and analyst Sunny Hostin spoke to attendees to gauge their reactions to the president’s responses. Though questions were asked primarily by the family members of victims who were killed by police officers this year, many officers in attendance felt the president’s answers were balanced on both sides of the issue.

“It was powerful,” said Ohio police officer Nakia Jones. “People were listening to each other and I think the president came up with a lot of good solutions. Being on both sides — being a police officer and also being an African-American mother — it was amazing to see all of these people in one room together.”

Jones, whose video reprimanding fellow officers after the shooting death of Alton Sterling by a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officer went viral, said the president’s request for accountability in the community makes her want to “go back to fellow police departments and make sure we hold each other accountable.”

Jones is especially driven to be the best officer she can because of people like Sterling’s 15-year-old son, Cameron. For the first time, Jones was able to speak to Sterling’s family following his death on July 5. The officer became overwhelmed with emotion when asked how she’d been received by African-Americans since the video and the exchange she had with Cameron.

“Just to hear a lot of [African-Americans] say they hated the police and how they didn’t want to deal with us and didn’t trust us, to now hear them say, ‘You made us want to trust you guys again. You stood up, you said something,’ it was just real overwhelming,” Jones said. “Especially for a son who just lost his dad to say, ‘I still trust police and I know it’s some good police officers out there.’ That’s all I wanted to do was bridge that gap and say not all of us are bad. Ninety-five percent of us are good officers. To hear him say I know there’s good officers … ”

Her shaky voice trailed off once more.

“My compassion level changed drastically,” she said. “I feel like for me to ask for that change, I have to be that change. I have to lead by example. My community knows what kind of officer I am, but I have to be better.”

Ferguson, Missouri’s new police chief, Delrish Moss, was also in attendance, and said he believes Obama’s responses addressed what he describes as a “very complicated set of issues.” Moss had been with the Miami Police Department for 32 years before moving into his new position in May.

The Ferguson Police Department became an integral part of the discussions over race and police brutality after the shooting death of Michael Brown in August 2014. On Thursday, Moss was happy to see members of the Ferguson community at the town hall, including 19-year-old activist Clifton Kinnie.

“I think the truth is we all want the same thing,” Moss said. “We want better communities, we want safer schools, we want schools that invest in our children. I think the difference is when there’s a limited part of the pie, we’re sort of pitted against each other to get those things and I think those things spill out into issues that become police issues.

“But I think the president was very dead-on when he said a lot of these things have to be taken care of before they become police issues. Crime doesn’t happen because people want to become criminals. Crime happens because there’s poverty and there often isn’t a choice. These are things that need to be dealt with long before they become police issues.”

Watch the full interviews here.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.