The recent tragic events in Minneapolis, Baton Rouge and Dallas inspired President Obama, TSL’s good friend Jemele Hill, moderator David Muir of “World News Tonight” and some devastated family members of victims of violence and law enforcement, to participate in a town hall discussion entitled, “The President and the People: A National Conversation.”
The one-hour special, which aired on ABC, ESPN and a number of other national outlets, came less than a week after President Obama attended a Dallas memorial service for five slain police officers shot by a sniper in the aftermath of two brothers being maliciously slain by cops in Louisiana and Minnesota.
The increased racial tension and backlash from these incidents, mixed with the misinterpreted militancy of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the impending Republican convention made this conversation necessary.
The first person to address President Obama was 15-year-old Cameron Sterling, son of Alton Sterling, who was shot while being held down by two police officers.
Sterling asked Obama how he planned to “keep my family…and the good police officers in the country safe?”
He also asked Obama for his “help to end all racism in the world.”
With just six months left in Obama’s historic Presidency, that’s not likely. The President did say that he doesn’t want a generation of people fearful or mistrustful of the police, but “working through the issue will take some time.”
The next person to speak was Diamond Reynolds, whose boyfriend was killed during a traffic stop with his four-year-old daughter in the car.
She commended Obama for being a “role model” to her family but expressed above all else that, “When I think about my daughter’s future, I’m scared for her.”
The next speaker was Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Govenor of Texas, who typically expressed that the police officers of Texas have a certain mistrust of our President saying, “…Police officers in Texas know they have my support," implying that officers don’t feel that Obama has done “everything you need to do to protect their lives.”
Asserting a mildly combative tone, the Lt. Govenor asked Obama why he hadn’t put up the blue lights in the Whitehouse, as he did for other groups of people who have suffered through an American tragedy.
At that point, I personally acknowledged how hard it must be for a President in Obama’s position. The division is so strong -- despite his insistence that the nation isn’t as divided as it appears– that the alleged victims, whether cops or families of those killed by cops, all wanted him to wave a magic wand and fix the problem and acknowledge their side as being more important. Why there’s “sides” when human decency would rectify all of these problems is beyond me. They all acted as if Obama created this condition in the first place, when in actuality he’s been a victim of every racial dynamic taking place in this country right now.
Just as the sympathy swelled for the slain victims of actual and alleged police brutality, ESPN personality Hill introduced the mothers of two cops. One has a son awaiting trial on a police shooting case in South Carolina. The other’s son is a cop in Baltimore and had a brick thrown into his police car during protests.
They asked Obama what he’s doing to keep the cops safe. Obama responded by pointing out that the best police departments are starting to send officers into schools. Not just to settle a dispute or a testy situation, but to establish a positive relationship with kids at the ages of 6, 7, 8, so they can start getting to know police officers patrolling their nrighborhoods early in the game.
When I spoke to Jemele earlier this week, she said that she hoped some real issues could be addressed and that having cops, supporters of law enforcement and politicians and families of deceased victims of police brutality, in a peaceful town hall meeting together, would help heal a country that is being portrayed as seriously divided along racial lines and turning into a military state where police take a Third World Country approach to dealing with civilians.
Coffey Anderson and his huge white cowboy hat posed the best question of the night to the P.O.T.U.S.
Anderson, who gained fame on NBC’s Nashville Star and recently posted a video instructing black men on how to react when pulled over, asked Obama if he had “ever been pulled over?”
It was the realest and most unscripted moment of the night.
Obama replied, “Yes…I deserved it, I was probably going too fast.”
The President also said that there were a couple of times in his life, “where that was not the case.”
Then, with some simple recollections, he broke down why his Presidency is one of the greatest accomplishments in American history.
He talked about an experience of racial awakening that he had while living with his white grandparents on the 10th floor of this apartment building and a woman, “I thought she knew me,” Obama said, exited the elevator in fear, when he got on it.
He took it a bit deeper when he referenced people locking doors when he and other African-American males walked through traffic.
Still he had to walk a fine line in these discussions and it showed.
The Police Chief of Milwaukee, Edward Flynn, claims “Police officers in America care more about Black lives than any institution. “
He basically painted a picture that black people are destroying each other and their communities and the police are there to save them from themselves.
As the show reached its end Obama also made it his business to clarify the misconceptions about the “Black Lived Matter” movement.
“…[BLM] simply refers to the notion that there’s a specific vulnerability for African-Americans that need to be addressed.”
He cautioned against a belief that a group of people who are “asking for fair treatment are somewhat automatically anti-police…”
“Sometimes people want acknowledgement…their concerns to be heard,” Obama insisted.
In this town hall gathering, both sides were heard. Obama did his best to be respectful of everyone’s concerns. Unfortunately, he won’t get to lead this country into 2017 and capitalize on the progress of these kinds of exchange of ideas. Soon, the reigns of this crucial time in American history will be taken over by another individual.
Surely they won’t express the same sympathies for the Black experience in America as Obama has. So we must cherish moments like Thursday night.
When one of the greatest Presidents of our time -- – The Great Diplomat -- showed his ability to reason and listen and be inclusive and respectful of all sides, while ramming home his objective, which is to get a fractured nation working in unison, respecting each other and being more tolerant and appreciative of human life.