Whenever a story centered on race, or better yet, racism reaches the national media, those looking for President Barack Obama to address the situation are met with a singular question: “What do you expect Obama to do?” It is a question that is as ardent as it is asinine and is an inquiry prefaced on the notion that the most-powerful man in the world is impotent when it comes to instances of hatred and horror taking place on the very land that is the source of his power. It’s as if those posing this question don’t know much about precedence let alone the executive orders and tone-setting speeches associated with it.
After watching a paramilitary police force tear gas peaceful protesters, threaten journalists with mace on-air, and even attempt to block the camera broadcasting these gross violations of civil liberties, the question, “What do you expect Obama to do?” ought to yield very easy answers: to lead, to set the tone, to help restore order, to be a statesman, to be the President he was elected twice to be.
Last Thursday, President Obama exercised his trademark “measured tone” while addressing the clashes between protestors and police, after the shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Not surprisingly, Obama wagged his finger at all parties involved. President Obama said, “There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting, nor is there an excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protestors.”
No, there’s no excuse for vandalism and looting, though once again, the anger is palpable and understandable. Even so, the problem with Obama’s remarks is that he’s giving an even-handed shaming on a matter where the imbalance should be obvious: As much as this country currently loves to pretend that corporations and the businesses they profit from are our equals, damaged property is in no way on equal footing with the loss of human life. A broken window or stolen packs of silky Brazilian weave is not on par with an officer shooting a teenage boy in cold blood and leaving him to lie in his own blood for several hours.
As the newly released preliminary private autopsy confirms, Michael Brown was shot at least six times — including twice in the head. We have to wait for more intel, but as of now, it looks as if Michael Brown was shot execution-style. But no matter how he was killed, his death remains the grievance. Moreover, it is Darren Wilson’s character that should be currently under a microscope, not Michael Brown’s.
After all, this is the monster who shot and killed Brown and could not even be burdened with the task of calling for an ambulance. Meanwhile, an officer who shot a dog in Illinois was quickly fired. One can only imagine the kind of swift justice Michael Brown’s parents would have received if they had raised their child to bark on command.
This is why I was frustrated when I heard Obama say last week, “Now’s the time for healing, now’s the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.”
And on Monday, Obama reiterated much of these same remarks, only with even less emotion coupled with a plug for his My Brother’s Keeper initiative. These remarks are just as useless on Monday as they were last Thursday.
They are passive words and I’m sick of hearing racism discussed in weaker tones. I admire and respect President Obama, but if he can go to a Morehouse College commencement and lecture graduates about the importance of education, he can speak to a nation about the evils of racism — directly in Ferguson. Obama has no issue being stern when it comes to addressing Blacks about our faults, but holds “beer summits” with racist cops.
Black people are suffering.
Our disproportional economic struggles have still yet to be properly addressed, but at the very least, can we finally see our very lives acknowledged in a meaningful way? My Brother’s Keeper is a good initiative, but your brother cannot keep you safe from the increasing terror of a militarized police force that unjustly targets Black men and women.
One of Obama’s most-infamous quotes is, “I’m not the president of Black America. I’m the president of the United States of America.”
Indeed, but at one point does President Obama recognize that Black people are a part of America too, and that our concerns are as worthy as everyone else’s? If we can condemn Condoleezza Rice for shopping while New Orleanians suffered — in some cases, fatally — due to multilateral government failure, the same criticism can be yielded to Obama who attended a jazz concert as women and children were gassed while using their First Amendment right to defend their humanity on Sunday night. Or who on Monday, speaks about Ferguson in the most banal of terms.
His silence on just what exactly is happening in Ferguson, and all of America, plus his continued reliance on false equivalences are disappointing and hurtful. Black people deserve better. So does America.