Obama Deploys Eric Holder To Ferguson; Speaks About Race
Moments ago while taking a break from his vacation, the president announced that he would drag away the US attorney general Eric Holder neck deep in workload (which involves if not prosecuting criminal bankers, who as we know as too systemic to prosecute, then certainly punishing them by demanding their shareholders pay legal charges that amount to pennies on the dollar from the crime proceeds) to Ferguson on Wednesday, where he will meet with federal law enforcement authorities.
So to preview tonight's Ferguson highlights: every TV network present, no curfew and the national guard, with Eric Holder en route.
And while Obama touched on the topic of the ongoing military campaign in Iraq, which he admitted would be a long-term "strategy", the most important excerpt of the speech by a president somewhat out of his comfort zone, were the following comments on the topic of race, where he was on thin ice: condemn the rioting too hard, and he could cost the democrats the "race" vote in the midterms; condemn the police response, and he would appear to be pandering to rioters and looters and put the police union vote in jeopardy.
Here is what he said, presented without comment (transcript via WaPo):
Obama: Obviously, we’ve seen events in which there’s a big gulf between community perceptions and law enforcement perceptions around the country. This is not something new. It’s always tragic when it involves the death of someone so young. I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed. Because, although these are, you know, issues of local jurisdiction -- you know, the DOJ works for me. And then when they’re conducting an investigation, I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other.
So, it’s hard for me to address a specific case, beyond making sure that it’s conducted in a way that is transparent, where there’s accountability, where people can trust the process, hoping that, as a consequence of a fair and just process, you end up with a fair and just outcome.
But, as I think I’ve said in some past occasions, part of the ongoing challenge of perfecting our union has involved dealing with communities that feel left behind, who, as a consequence of tragic histories, often find themselves isolated, often find themselves without hope, without economic prospects.
You have young men of color in many communities who are more likely to end up in jail or in the criminal justice system than they are in a good job or in college.
And, you know, part of my job, that I can do, I think, without any potential conflicts, is to get at those root causes.
Now, that’s a big project. It’s one that we’ve been trying to carry out now for a couple of centuries. And we’ve made extraordinary progress, but we have not made enough progress.
And so, the idea behind something like My Brother’s Keeper is can we work with cities and communities and clergy and parents and young people themselves, all across the country, school superintendents, business, corporations, and can we find models that work, that move these young men on -- on a better track?
Now part of that process is also looking at our criminal justice system to make sure that it is upholding the basic principle of everybody’s equal before the law.
And -- and one of the things that we’ve looked at during the course of where we can make -- during the course of investigating where we can make a difference is that there’re patterns that start early.
Young African American and Hispanic boys tend to get suspended from school at much higher rates than other kids, even when they’re in elementary school. They tend to have much more frequent interactions with the criminal justice system at an earlier age.
Sentencing may be different. How trials are conducted may be different.
And so, you know, one of the things that we’ve done is to include Department of Justice in this conversation under the banner of my brother’s keeper to see where can we start working with local communities to inculcate more trust, more confidence in the criminal justice system.
And -- and I want to be -- I want to be clear about this because sometimes I think there’s confusion around these issues and this dates back for -- for decades.
There are young black men that commit crime. And -- and -- and we can argue about why that happens because of the poverty they were born into or the lack of opportunity or the school systems that failed them or what have you, but if they commit a crime, then they need to be prosecuted because every community has an interest in public safety.
And if you go into the African American community or the Latino community, some of the folks who are most intent on making sure that criminals are dealt with are people that have been preyed upon by them.
So, this is not an argument that there isn’t real crime out there and that law enforcement doesn’t have a difficult job. And you know, that they -- you know, they have to be honored and respected for the danger and difficulty of law enforcement. But what is also true is that given the history of this country, where we can make progress in building up more confidence, more trust, making sure that our criminal justice system is acutely aware of the possibilities of disparities in treatment, there are safeguards in place to avoid those disparities where, you know, training and assistance is provided to local law enforcement who, you know, may just need more information in order to avoid potential disparity. All those things can make a difference.
One of the things I was most proud of when I was in the state legislature, way back when I had no grey hair and none of you could pronounce my name was, you know, I passed legislation requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions. And I passed legislation dealing with racial profiling in Illinois.
And in both cases, we worked with local law enforcement. And the argument was that you can do a better job as a law enforcement official if you have built up credibility and trust. And there’s some basic things that can be done to promote that kind of trust, and you know, in some cases, it’s just a lack of information. And we want to make sure that we get that information to law enforcement.
So, there are things that can be done to improve the situation, but short term, obviously, right now what we have to do is make sure that the cause of justice and fair administration of the law is being brought to bear in Ferguson. In order to do that, we’ve got to make sure that we are able to distinguish between peaceful protesters who may have some legitimate grievances, and maybe longstanding grievances, and those who are using this tragic death as an excuse to engage in criminal behavior and tossing Molotov cocktails or looting stores. And that is a small minority of folks, and it may not even be residents of Ferguson, but they are damaging the cause. They are not advancing it.
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