I’m pleased that President Barack Obama reassured African-Americans Saturday that he remains focused on the dangers facing young black men and police across this country, even as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation in the midst of the Michael Brown investigation.
Black America – and certainly Michael Brown’s family — needed to hear from their Black president on this particular issue, at this particular time.
“I know that Michael’s family is here tonight,” Obama said during the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual awards dinner. “I know that nothing any of us can say can ease the grief of losing a child so soon. But the anger and the emotion that followed his death awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.”
Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager from Ferguson, Missouri was shot and killed August 9 by police officer Darren Wilson.
Several eyewitnesses said Brown’s hands were raised in the air when he was gunned down. A grand jury has been empaneled to determine whether charges against Wilson should be filed.
“We have to close the justice gap — how justice is applied, but also how it is perceived, how it is experienced,” Obama said. “Eric Holder understands this. That’s what we saw in Ferguson this summer, when Michael Brown was killed and a community was divided. We know that the unrest continues. And Eric spent some time with the residents and police of Ferguson, and the Department of Justice has indicated that its civil rights investigation is ongoing.”
Obama’s acknowledgment of race and policing comes at a critical moment in our communities. Many Black Americans expressed shock and disappointment that Holder is stepping down after six years leading the Department of Justice as the agency’s first African-American U.S. Attorney General.
While many black Americans praised Holder for his commitment to civil rights issues, others questioned whether Holder’s replacement – whoever that may be – will have the same drive, pledge and racial awareness that Holder possessed. But I believe Obama clearly understands the seriousness of race and policing in America and will direct the next U.S. Attorney General to continue Holder’s diligent pursuit of civil rights cases, which includes the Michael Brown case.
“Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness,” Obama said. “We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities. That’s just the statistics. One recent poll showed that the majority of Americans think the criminal justice system doesn’t treat people of all races equally. Think about that. That’s not just blacks, not just Latinos or Asians or Native Americans saying things may not be unfair. That’s most Americans.”
And that has a corrosive effect — not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America,” the President added. “It harms the communities that need law enforcement the most. It makes folks who are victimized by crime and need strong policing reluctant to go to the police because they may not trust them. And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children. And to that end, we need to help communities and law enforcement build trust, build understanding, so that our neighborhoods stay safe and our young people stay on track,” Obama said. “And under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department has launched a national effort to do just that.”
Even though Holder is leaving his post, black folks can take comfort in the fact that Obama not only understands that our young black men are being shot and killed senselessly by police, he is moved to action to confront this crisis. And that’s true leadership from a Black president.
What do you think?
(Photo: Associated Press)