Yesterday, the President of the United States participated in a Town Hall meeting dubbed America in Black and White: The President and the People. From the dramatic sounding moniker, it was easy to discern exactly what this sit down was going to be all about, massaging the patriotism and concerns of America following the heartbreaking incidents of death and carnage that gripped the nation last week with the police involved killings of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile, and what is believed to have been the retaliatory killing of five police officers in Dallas.
To be certain, President Obama is in a really tough spot. And as has been his hallmark from the very beginning of his first campaign for the presidency, he took a conciliatory tone toward law enforcement while also acknowledging the right for groups like Black Lives Matter to exercise their 1st Amendment Rights in petitioning for a remedy to police brutality and excessive force.
The handpicked audience included relatives of police shooting victims, police officers and relatives, community activists and politicians, and was held in Washington, DC, broadcast across the Disney family of networks which includes ABC, ESPN, Freeform, and others.
It was immediately apparent that all the individuals who were lucky enough to ask questions of the Commander-in-Chief were dealing with emotions – both their own emotions and the emotions of individuals who share the same viewpoint as they did.
The first two people to ask questions were Cameron Turner, 15-year-old son of Alton Sterling and Diamond Reynolds, girlfriend of Philandro Castile who went live on Facebook as Castile bled out. Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn appeared to grasp the delimma for law enforcement better than many.
The heart of the police dilemma is those neighborhoods that demand our services, need us the most, request us the most, depend upon us us the most for social or historical reasons, distrust us, Flynn said.
What is true for a lot of African American men is theres a greater presumption of dangerousness that arises from the social and cultural perceptions that have been fed to folks for a long time, Obama responded. “But black folks and Latino folks also carry some assumptions. You may see a police officer whos doing everything right, and you already assumed the worst rather than the best in him, and we have to guard against that as well.
“What can we do?”. “How can we change this?” and “What do you think?” were some of the more common suffixes used to close each question. No one got a pragmatic answer.
The fact that President Barack Hussein Obama was speaking about the polarizing issues of racism, police brutality and gun violence in America made the affair imbued with political energy and hampered by that very politicization.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took the opportunity to grandstand and make the issue about the safety of police officers during a time when the number of police killed in the line of duty are at a 40-year low. At one point he even uses young Cameron as a political prop as he stood next to him and quizzed Obama.
“I’m concerned that police officers across the country, they know you support law enforcement of course, but do they really in their heart feel like you’re doing everything you can to protect their lives?” asked Patrick. “Yesterday you had meetings at the White House and afterwards you said that the tension between the police and between black America is only gonna get worse.”
Patrick’s admonishing tone basically questioned the President of the United States’ dedication and commitment to making sure law and order is maintained. Afterwards, it was learned that only a small portion of the exchange was televised. Obama responded tactfully but firmly.
“I have been unequivocal in condemning any rhetoric directed at police officers,” Obama replied. “So I think, lieutenant governor, you’d have to find … any message that did not include a very strong support for law enforcement in all my utterances dating back to Ferguson because I rely on law enforcement to protect me and my family, just like everybody else does.”
“I have also insisted throughout all these processes that law enforcement is deserving of due process just like everybody else,” Obama continued. “No matter how powerful videos may be or what’s been said, everybody deserves to be treated fairly by the justice system.”
Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner – the Staten Island native who was killed during an encounter with police – stormed out of the affair and went to social media to express her discontent with ABC.
“Yo this town hall that presidential town hall #abc arranged is a farce. It was nothing short of full exploitation of Black pain and grief.”
She then elaborated further in a statement released to Huffington Post.
I had to stage a walkout by myself, Garner said. And I went out there, I had to yell, scream, and eventually I was able to speak to the president. Its a shame as black people that we have to yell and become belligerent to have our voices heard.
Her treatment is indicative of what’s happening all over the country between politicians and individuals from communities disproportionately affected by police brutality who truly are dedicated to asking hard questions and demanding answers.
What went grossly under-questioned is the manner in which many local district attorneys, and the United States Department of Justice by proxy, enable abusive police officers to get away with murder. Predictably, powerful police unions and line-towing media outlets simply pass the buck of blame on to the victims themselves.
There will likely be another Black or Brown male gunned down soon amid shady circumstances, and the outcome will likely be the same as that in the Eric Garner case, the Freddie Gray case and the Mike Brown case. The chicken cannot continually be allowed to guard the hen house.
One of the fastest ways to gain trust would be civilian oversight followed by transparent investigations. No amount of presidential coddling and soothsaying will make that happen. Only putting pressure on local political powers will. Think nationally, act locally.