DETROIT (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden has told a crowd at an NAACP event in Detroit that law enforcement officers and the people they are sworn to protect need to "see each other" to know one another.
Referencing outrage over the treatment of black men by police, Biden pointed to the successes of federally funded community policing programs that required officers to meet with residents and business owners in their patrol areas.
"Everyone has a right to be treated with dignity and respect and the only way that happens is if we see one another. And that only happens if we know one another," Biden told a crowd attending the Detroit branch of the NAACP's 60th annual Fight for Freedom Fund dinner. According to NAACP officials, the dinner draws around 10,000 people each year.
Community policing grants required local officers to get out of their squad cars and get to know people and business owners in the areas they patrolled, Biden said. He added that federal funds for those programs have been cut back over the years.
Biden said black mothers are "worried that their child may be presumed to be a gang banger — that some authority will see them as a profile and not as an individual."
A national dialogue has been ongoing since 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer in August in Ferguson, Missouri.
The vice president said minority and struggling communities need thriving neighborhoods, educational opportunities and jobs to heal some of their ills.
Detroit exited the nation's largest municipal bankruptcy in December, eliminating or restructuring $7 billion in debt. Another $1.7 billion will be used to improve basic services for residents in the city.
The Obama administration has steered $300 million to Detroit to help tear down thousands of the city's blighted and vacant houses and fund other improvements.
Biden lauded Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for his work in turning the city around.
"Mayor you turned the lights back on," he said. "Buses are moving. The streets are plowed. The trash is picked up."
Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree delivered last year's keynote. Other past speakers have included U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and former President Bill Clinton.
Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit was among four people honored at the dinner.