Wednesday, April 29, 2015
President Obama on Baltimore Riots
Fifty years ago, the Watts section of south Los Angeles erupted in violence after a police encounter with an African American man. For the first time, television covered this sort of urban rioting, looting, burning of businesses, police beating of rock-throwing protesters, and National Guardsmen fully armed, enforcing marshal law in an American city. In the next few years, other cities followed ...
Promises were made ... nothing changed ... things actually got worse ...
Meanwhile, we wasted trillions in Viet-Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan ...
Ignoring the Third World neighborhoods with their permanent underclass of hopelessness ...
Yesterday, President Obama, the first Black president, who began his activism as a community organizer in Chicago slums, was asked for his reaction to the events in Baltimore.
Thoughtful and infuriatingly articulate, as always, he made six points. The first five related to the incident that ignited the protests, the police, the criminality of looters ...
The sixth point was the most insightful ... and this is a transcript of those remarks (the italics are mine):
We can’t just leave this to the police. I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching. I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching. But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades.
And without making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities,
what we also know is that if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty;
they’ve got parents — often because of substance-abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves — can’t do right by their kids;
if it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead, than they go to college.
In communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men; communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing has been stripped away; and drugs have flooded the community, and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a whole lot of folks — in those environments, if we think that we’re just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not going to solve this problem.
And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets, and everybody will feign concern until it goes away, and then we go about our business as usual.
If we are serious about solving this problem, then we’re going to not only have to help the police, we’re going to have to think about what can we do — the rest of us — to make sure that we’re providing early education to these kids;
to make sure that we’re reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons;
so that we’re not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a nonviolent drug offense;
that we’re making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs.
That’s hard. That requires more than just the occasional news report or task force. And there’s a bunch of my agenda that would make a difference right now in that.
Now, I’m under no illusion that out of this Congress we’re going to get massive investments in urban communities, and so we’ll try to find areas where we can make a difference around school reform and around job training, and around some investments in infrastructure in these communities trying to attract new businesses in.
But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant — and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We’re paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids, and we think they’re important. And they shouldn’t be living in poverty and violence.
That’s how I feel. I think there are a lot of good-meaning people around the country that feel that way. But that kind of political mobilization I think we haven’t seen in quite some time. And what I’ve tried to do is to promote those ideas that would make a difference. But I think we all understand that the politics of that are tough because it’s easy to ignore those problems or to treat them just as a law and order issue, as opposed to a broader social issue.
That was a really long answer, but I felt pretty strongly about it.