All posts in category African Americans
Full Text Campaign Buzz 2016 September 3, 2016: GOP Nominee Donald Trump’s speech to African American Church in Detroit Transcript
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 3, 2016
Full Text Political Transcripts February 18, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Black History Month Reception
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:
Remarks by the President at Black History Month Reception
Source: WH, 2-18-16
4:51 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! (Applause.) Well, it is so good to see all of you. Welcome to the White House.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you! (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: And we know it is Black History Month when you hear somebody say “Hey, Michelle!” (Laughter.) “Girl! You look so good!” (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: So do you!
MRS. OBAMA: He’s all right.
You look good, too, baby.
THE PRESIDENT: All right. I want to thank everybody who’s here this evening, this afternoon. I want to give a special thanks to the members of Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus who are here tonight. Give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)
For the past seven years — now, come on, y’all. (Laughter.) I’m only going to be a second.
MRS. OBAMA: It’s exciting.
THE PRESIDENT: Except for that little guy. He’s hungry. (Laughter.)
For the past seven years, and in some cases before that, the people in this room have been incredible supporters of me and Michelle. And we could not be more grateful for everything you’ve done for us, everything you’ve done for the country. And so I just want to start off by saying thank you. (Applause.) Yes! Yes!
Now, we gather to celebrate Black History Month, and from our earliest days, black history has been American history. (Applause.) We’re the slaves who quarried the stone to build this White House; the soldiers who fought for our nation’s independence, who fought to hold this union together, who fought for freedom of others around the world. We’re the scientists and inventors who helped unleash American innovation. We stand on the shoulders not only of the giants in this room, but also countless, nameless heroes who marched for equality and justice for all of us.
Down through the decades, African American culture has profoundly shaped American culture — in music and art, literature and sports. I want to give a special acknowledgment to my lovely wife — (applause) — because just last week she hosted a performance of African American women and girls in dance. And we had luminaries like Debbie Allen and Judith Jamison — (applause) — working with the next generation of outstanding young black dancers. I understand it was a pretty special event. It was, apparently, an incredible event. I was not invited. (Laughter.) My dance moves did not make the cut. (Laughter.)
So we are so proud to honor this rich heritage. But Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history — (applause) — or somehow just boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits from the March on Washington, or from some of our sports heroes. There are well-meaning attempts to do that all around us, from classrooms to corporate ad campaigns. But we know that this should be more than just a commemoration of particular events.
It’s about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America. It’s about taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future. It’s a reminder of where we as a country have been so that we know where we need to go.
That’s why earlier today, we hosted an intergenerational roundtable of civil rights leaders to talk about today’s efforts to reform our criminal justice system. So we had icons of the Civil Rights Movement that helped get me here — folks like Reverend C.T. Vivian and John Lewis — (applause.) But they were with up-and-coming change-makers like Stephen Green of the NAACP Youth and College Division, or Brittany Packnett of Campaign Zero —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Brittany!
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah! Who is a member of our 21st Century Police Task Force. And to hear the incredible contributions these young people were making, and to see how their courage and tenacity was connected to those who had lived through Bloody Sunday — it made you optimistic about a future. It was powerful to see the fathers and the mothers of the Movement in this constant interaction, understanding that each successive generation has to take the baton and move us forward.
And what’s so inspiring about these young people and their generation is that they don’t see black history as a relic; it’s not something to study in a book. They don’t see themselves as distant from that history — they are participants, making history. It’s alive, something that we have the power and the responsibility to shape and to wield.
The Civil Rights Movement grew out of church basements and word of mouth, and drew strength from freedom songs and the power of young people’s examples. And thanks to technology and social media, today’s leaders are building a new, inclusive movement that’s mobilizing people of all backgrounds to stand up for change — from equal opportunity in education to a smarter criminal justice system, one that’s effective in keeping us safe but also makes sure that everybody is treated fairly under the law.
So I want to give a special shout-out to young people here today — (applause) — and tell them we want them to continue doing what they’re doing.
And that’s the thing about our democracy. It takes all of us. It’s important that we have responsive elected officials. Supreme Court appointments are important. (Applause.) But ultimately, everything comes down to the constant perseverance, the courage, the tenacity, the vision of citizens like you, making sure not only you exercise your right to vote, but that in between elections you are part of a constant movement in your local communities, or at the national level, or at an international level, to bring about the kind of change from which all of us in this room have benefitted because of the labors of somebody who came before us.
America is a nation that is a constant work in progress. That’s why we are exceptional. We don’t stop. There’s a gap — there always will be — between who we are and the “perfect union,” that ideal that we see. But what makes us exceptional, what makes us Americans is that we fight wars and pass laws, and we march, and we organize unions, and we stage protests, and that gap gets smaller over time. And it’s that effort to form a “more perfect union” that marks us as a people.
As long as we keep at it, as long as we don’t get discouraged, as long as we are out there fighting the good fight not just on one day, or one month, but every single day, and every single month, I have no doubt that we’re going to live up to the promise of our founding ideals — and that all these young children who are standing in front, no matter who they are or where they come from, they’re going to have the opportunity to achieve their dreams.
Thanks, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.)
5:01 P.M. EST
Posted by bonniekgoodman on February 18, 2016
Full Text Obama Presidency September 20, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Congressional Black Caucus 45th Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner Transcript
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:
Remarks by the President at the Congressional Black Caucus 45th Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner
Source: WH, 9-20-15
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
9:40 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, CBC! (Applause.) I guess I get the fancier lectern here. Everybody please have a seat. Have a seat. I know it’s late. You’re ready for the after parties. I should have ditched the speech and brought my playlist. (Laughter.) Everybody looks beautiful, handsome, wonderful. Thank you, Don, for that introduction. Thank you to the CBC Foundation. And thank you to the members of the CBC. (Applause.)
On the challenges of our times, from giving workers a raise to getting families health coverage; on the threats of our time, from climate change to nuclear proliferation — members of the CBC have been leaders moving America forward. With your help, our businesses have created over 13 million new jobs. (Applause.) With your help, we’ve covered more than 16 million Americans with health insurance — many for the first time. (Applause.) Three years ago, Republicans said they’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent by 2017. It’s down to 5.1 right now. (Applause.) You didn’t hear much about that at the debate on Monday — on Wednesday night.
The point is, though, none of this progress would have been possible without the CBC taking tough votes when it mattered most. Whatever I’ve accomplished, the CBC has been there. (Applause.) I was proud to be a CBC member when I was in the Senate, and I’m proud to be your partner today. But we’re not here just to celebrate — we’re here to keep going. Because with the unemployment rate for African Americans still more than double than whites, with millions of families still working hard and still waiting to feel the recovery in their own lives, we know that the promise of this nation — where every single American, regardless of the circumstances in which they were born, regardless of what they look like, where they come from, has the chance to succeed — that promise is not yet fulfilled.
The good thing about America — the great project of America is that perfecting our union is never finished. We’ve always got more work to do. And tonight’s honorees remind us of that. They remind us of the courage and sacrifices, the work that they’ve done — and not just at the national level, but in local communities all across the country. We couldn’t be prouder of them. The heroes of the Civil Rights Movement whom we lost last month remind us of the work that remains to be done. American heroes like Louis Stokes, and Julian Bond, and Amelia Boynton Robinson. (Applause.)
Ms. Robinson — as some of you know, earlier this year, my family and I joined many in Selma for the 50th anniversary of that march. And as we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I held Ms. Amelia’s hand. And I thought about her and all the extraordinary women like her who were really the life force of the movement. (Applause.) Women were the foot soldiers. Women strategized boycotts. Women organized marches. Even if they weren’t allowed to run the civil rights organizations on paper, behind the scenes they were the thinkers and the doers making things happen each and every day — (applause) — doing the work that nobody else wanted to do. They couldn’t prophesize from the pulpits, but they led the charge from the pews. They were no strangers to violence. They were on the front lines. So often they were subject to abuse, dehumanized, but kept on going, holding families together. Mothers were beaten and gassed on Bloody Sunday. Four little girls were murdered in a Birmingham church. Women made the movement happen.
Of course, black women have been a part of every great movement in American history — (applause) — even if they weren’t always given a voice. They helped plan the March on Washington, but were almost entirely absent from the program. And when pressed, male organizers added a tribute highlighting six women — none of them who were asked to make a speech. Daisy Bates introduced her fellow honorees in just 142 words, written by a man. Of course, Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson sang. But in a three-hour program, the men gave women just 142 words. That may sound familiar to some of the women in the room here tonight. The organizers even insisted on two separate parades — male leaders marching along the main route on Pennsylvania Avenue, and leaders like Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks relegated to Independence Avenue. America’s most important march against segregation had its own version of separation.
Black women were central in the fight for women’s rights, from suffrage to the feminist movement — (applause) — and yet despite their leadership, too often they were also marginalized. But they didn’t give up, they didn’t let up. They were too fierce for that. Black women have always understood the words of Pauli Murray — that “Hope is a song in a weary throat.”
It’s thanks to black women that we’ve come a long way since the days when a girl like Ruby Bridges couldn’t go to school. When a woman like Amelia couldn’t cast her vote. When we didn’t have a Congressional Black Caucus — and its 20 women members. (Applause.)
So I’m focusing on women tonight because I want them to know how much we appreciate them, how much we admire them, how much we love them. (Applause.) And I want to talk about what more we have to do to provide full opportunity and equality for our black women and girls in America today. (Applause.)
Because all of us are beneficiaries of a long line of strong black women who helped carry this country forward. Their work to expand civil rights opened the doors of opportunity, not just for African Americans but for all women, for all of us — black and white, Latino and Asian, LGBT and straight, for our First Americans and our newest Americans. And their contributions in every field — as scientists and entrepreneurs, educators, explorers — all made us stronger. Of course, they’re also a majority of my household. (Laughter and applause.) So I care deeply about how they’re doing.
The good news is, despite structural barriers of race and gender, women and girls of color have made real progress in recent years. The number of black women-owned businesses has skyrocketed. (Applause.) Black women have ascended the ranks of every industry. Teen pregnancy rates among girls of color are down, while high school and four-year college graduation rates are up. (Applause.) That’s good news.
But there’s no denying that black women and girls still face real and persistent challenges. The unemployment rate is over 8 percent for black women. And they’re overrepresented in low-paying jobs; underrepresented in management. They often lack access to economic necessities like paid leave and quality, affordable child care. They often don’t get the same quality health care that they need, and have higher rates of certain chronic diseases — although that’s starting to change with Obamacare. (Applause.) It’s working, by the way, people. Just in case — (laughter) — just in case you needed to know.
And then there are some of the challenges that are harder to see and harder to talk about — although Michelle, our outstanding, beautiful First Lady talks about these struggles. (Applause.) Michelle will tell stories about when she was younger, people telling her she shouldn’t aspire to go to the very best universities. And she found herself thinking sometimes, “Well, maybe they’re right.” Even after she earned two degrees from some of the best universities in America, she still faced the doubts that were rooted in deep social prejudice and stereotypes, worrying whether she was being too assertive, or too angry, or too tall. (Applause.) I like tall women. (Laughter and applause.)
And those stereotypes and social pressures, they still affect our girls. So we all have to be louder than the voices that are telling our girls they’re not good enough — (applause) — that they’ve got to look a certain way, or they’ve got to act a certain way, or set their goals at a certain level. We’ve got to affirm their sense of self-worth, and make them feel visible and beautiful, and understood and loved. (Applause.) And I say this as a father who strives to do this at home, but I also say this as a citizen. This is not just about my family or yours; it’s about who we are as a people, who we want to be, and how we can make sure that America is fulfilling its promise — because everybody is getting a chance, and everybody is told they’re important, and everybody is given opportunity. And we got to do more than just say we care, or say we put a woman on ten-dollar bill, although that’s a good idea. We’ve got to make sure they’re getting some ten-dollar bills; that they’re getting paid properly. (Applause.) We’ve got to let our actions do the talking.
It is an affront to the very idea of America when certain segments of our population don’t have access to the same opportunities as everybody else. It makes a mockery of our economy when black women make 30 fewer cents for every dollar a white man earns. (Applause.) That adds up to thousands of dollars in missed income that determines whether a family can pay for a home, or pay for college for their kids, or save for retirement, or give their kids a better life. And that’s not just a woman’s issue, that’s everybody’s issue. I want Michelle getting paid at some point. (Laughter and applause.) We’ve got an outstanding former Secretary of State here who is also former First Lady, and I know she can relate to Michelle when she says, how come you get paid and I don’t? (Laughter and applause.) How did that work? (Laughter.)
When women of color aren’t given the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential, we all lose out on their talents; we’re not as good a country as we can be. We might miss out on the next Mae Jemison or Ursula Burns or Serena Williams or Michelle Obama. (Applause.) We want everybody to be on the field. We can’t afford to leave some folks off the field.
So we’re going to have to close those economic gaps so that hardworking women of all races, and black women in particular can support families, and strengthen communities, and contribute to our country’s success. So that’s why my administration is investing in job training and apprenticeships, to help everybody, but particularly help more women earn better-paying jobs, and particularly in non-traditional careers. It’s why we’re investing in getting more girls, and particularly girls of color interested in STEM fields — math and science and engineering — (applause) — and help more of them stay on track in school.
It’s why we’re going to continue to fight to eliminate the pay gap. (Applause.) Equal pay for equal work. It’s an all-American idea. It’s very simple. And that’s why we’re going to keep working to raise the minimum wage — because women disproportionately are the ones who are not getting paid what they’re worth. That’s why we’re fighting to expand tax credits that help working parents make ends meet, closing tax loopholes for folks who don’t need tax loopholes to pay for. It’s why we’re expanding paid leave to employees of federal contractors. And that’s why Congress needs to expand paid leave for more hardworking Americans. It’s good for our economy. It’s the right thing to do. No family should have to choose between taking care of a sick child or losing their job. (Applause.)
And just as an aside, what’s not the right thing to do, what makes no sense at all, is Congress threatening to shut down the entire federal government if they can’t shut down women’s access to Planned Parenthood. (Applause.) That’s not a good idea. Congress should be working on investing things that grow our economy and expand opportunity, and not get distracted and inflict the kind of self-inflicted wounds that we’ve seen before on our economy. So that’s some of the things we need to do to help improve the economic standing of all women; to help all families feel more secure in a changing economy.
And before I go tonight, I also want to say something about a topic that’s been on my mind for a while, another profound barrier to opportunity in too many communities — and that is our criminal justice system. (Applause.)
I spoke about this at length earlier this year at the NAACP, and I explained the long history of inequity in our criminal justice system. We all know the statistics. And this summer, because I wanted to highlight that there were human beings behind these statistics, I visited a prison in Oklahoma — the first President to ever visit a federal prison. (Applause.) And I sat down with the inmates, and I listened to their stories. And one of the things that struck me was the crushing burden their incarceration has placed not just on their prospects for the future, but also for their families, the women in their lives, children being raised without a father in the home; the crushing regret these men felt over the children that they left behind.
Mass incarceration rips apart families. It hollows out neighborhoods. It perpetuates poverty. We understand that in many of our communities, they’re under-policed. The problem is not that we don’t want active, effective police work. We want, and admire, and appreciate law enforcement. We want them in our communities. Crime hurts the African American community more than anybody. But we want to make sure that it’s done well and it’s done right, and it’s done fairly and it’s done smart. (Applause.) And that’s why, in the coming months, I’m going to be working with many in Congress and many in the CBC to try to make progress on reform legislation that addresses unjust sentencing laws, and encourages diversion and prevention programs, catches our young people early and tries to put them on a better path, and then helps ex-offenders, after they’ve done their time, get on the right track. It’s the right thing to do for America. (Applause.)
And although in these discussions a lot of my focus has been on African American men and the work we’re doing with My Brother’s Keeper, we can’t forget the impact that the system has on women, as well. The incarceration rate for black women is twice as high as the rate for white women. Many women in prison, you come to discover, have been victims of homelessness and domestic violence, and in some cases human trafficking. They’ve got high rates of mental illness and substance abuse. And many have been sexually assaulted, both before they got to prison and then after they go to prison. And we don’t often talk about how society treats black women and girls before they end up in prison. They’re suspended at higher rates than white boys and all other girls. And while boys face the school-to-prison pipeline, a lot of girls are facing a more sinister sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline. (Applause.) Victims of early sexual abuse are more likely to fail in school, which can lead to sexual exploitation, which can lead to prison. So we’re focusing on boys, but we’re also investing in ways to change the odds for at-risk girls — to make sure that they are loved and valued, to give them a chance.
And that’s why we have to make a collective effort to address violence and abuse against women in all of our communities. In every community, on every campus, we’ve got to be very clear: Women who have been victims of rape or domestic abuse, who need help, should know that they can count on society and on law enforcement to treat them with love and care and sensitivity, and not skepticism. (Applause.)
I want to repeat — because somehow this never shows up on Fox News. (Laughter.) I want to repeat — because I’ve said it a lot, unwaveringly, all the time: Our law enforcement officers do outstanding work in an incredibly difficult and dangerous job. They put their lives on the line for our safety. (Applause.) We appreciate them and we love them. That’s why my Task Force on 21st Century Policing made a set of recommendations that I want to see implemented to improve their safety, as well as to make sure that our criminal justice system is being applied fairly. Officers show uncommon bravery in our communities every single day. They deserve our respect. That includes women in law enforcement. We need more of you, by the way. We’ve got an outstanding chief law enforcement officer in our Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. (Applause.) We want all our young ladies to see what a great role model she is.
So I just want to repeat, because somehow this never gets on the TV: There is no contradiction between us caring about our law enforcement officers and also making sure that our laws are applied fairly. Do not make this as an either/or proposition. This is a both/and proposition. (Applause.) We want to protect our police officers. We’ll do a better job doing it if our communities can feel confident that they are being treated fairly. I hope I’m making that clear. (Applause.) I hope I’m making that clear.
We need to make sure the laws are applied evenly. This is not a new problem. It’s just that in recent months, in recent years, suddenly folks have videos and body cameras, and social media, and so it’s opened our eyes to these incidents. And many of these incidents are subject to ongoing investigation, so I can’t comment on every specific one. But we can’t avoid these tough conversations altogether. That’s not going to help our police officers, the vast majority who do the right thing every day, by just pretending that these things aren’t happening. That’s not going to help build trust between them and the communities in which they serve.
So these are hard issues, but I’m confident we’re going to move forward together for a system that is fairer and more just. We’ve got good people on both sides of the aisle that are working with law enforcement and local communities to find a better way forward. And as always, change will not happen overnight. It won’t be easy. But if our history has taught us anything, it’s taught us that when we come together, when we’re working with a sense of purpose, when we are listening to one another, when we assume the best in each other rather than the worst, then change happens.
Like every parent, I can’t help to see the world increasingly through my daughters’ eyes. And on that day, when we were celebrating that incredible march in Selma, I had Ms. Amelia’s hand in one of my hands, but Michelle had Sasha’s hand, and my mother-in-law had Malia’s hand — and it was a chain across generations. And I thought about all those women who came before us, who risked everything for life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so often without notice, so often without fanfare. Their names never made the history books. All those women who cleaned somebody else’s house, or looked after somebody else’s children, did somebody else’s laundry, and then got home and did it again, and then went to church and cooked — and then they were marching. (Applause.)
And because of them, Michelle could cross that bridge. And because of them, they brought them along, and Malia and Sasha can cross that bridge. And that tells me that if we follow their example, we’re going to cross more bridges in the future. If we keep moving forward, hand in hand, God willing, my daughters’ children will be able to cross that bridge in an America that’s more free, and more just, and more prosperous than the one that we inherited. Your children will, too.
Thank you CBC. God bless you. God bless this country we love. (Applause.) Thank you.
10:06 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 20, 2015
Full Text Transcripts Obama Presidency June 26, 2015: President Barack Obama Delivers Eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney Sings Amazing Grace
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:
Remarks by the President in Eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney
Source: WH, 6-26-15
College of Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina
2:49 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Giving all praise and honor to God. (Applause.)
The Bible calls us to hope. To persevere, and have faith in things not seen.
“They were still living by faith when they died,” Scripture tells us. “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on Earth.”
We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith. A man who believed in things not seen. A man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance. A man of service who persevered, knowing full well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed.
To Jennifer, his beloved wife; to Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters; to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina.
I cannot claim to have the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well. But I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina, back when we were both a little bit younger. (Laughter.) Back when I didn’t have visible grey hair. (Laughter.) The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor — all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.
Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived; that even from a young age, folks knew he was special. Anointed. He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful — a family of preachers who spread God’s word, a family of protesters who sowed change to expand voting rights and desegregate the South. Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching.
He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth, nor youth’s insecurities; instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years, in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith, and purity.
As a senator, he represented a sprawling swath of the Lowcountry, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America. A place still wracked by poverty and inadequate schools; a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment. A place that needed somebody like Clem. (Applause.)
His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long. His calls for greater equity were too often unheeded, the votes he cast were sometimes lonely. But he never gave up. He stayed true to his convictions. He would not grow discouraged. After a full day at the capitol, he’d climb into his car and head to the church to draw sustenance from his family, from his ministry, from the community that loved and needed him. There he would fortify his faith, and imagine what might be.
Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean, nor small. He conducted himself quietly, and kindly, and diligently. He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone, but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen. He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes. No wonder one of his senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as “the most gentle of the 46 of us — the best of the 46 of us.”
Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant. But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of the AME church. (Applause.) As our brothers and sisters in the AME church know, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation, but…the life and community in which our congregation resides.” (Applause.)
He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words; that the “sweet hour of prayer” actually lasts the whole week long — (applause) — that to put our faith in action is more than individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation; that to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.
What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized — after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say someone was a good man. (Applause.)
You don’t have to be of high station to be a good man. Preacher by 13. Pastor by 18. Public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set. What a model for his faith. And then to lose him at 41 — slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God.
Cynthia Hurd. Susie Jackson. Ethel Lance. DePayne Middleton-Doctor. Tywanza Sanders. Daniel L. Simmons. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Myra Thompson. Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people. (Applause.) People so full of life and so full of kindness. People who ran the race, who persevered. People of great faith.
To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. The church is and always has been the center of African-American life — (applause) — a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.
Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah — (applause) — rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart — (applause) — and taught that they matter. (Applause.) That’s what happens in church.
That’s what the black church means. Our beating heart. The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate. When there’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel — (applause) — a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again, a Phoenix from these ashes. (Applause.)
When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, services happened here anyway, in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps. A sacred place, this church. Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion — (applause) — of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all. That’s what the church meant. (Applause.)
We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. (Applause.) An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.
Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. (Applause.) God has different ideas. (Applause.)
He didn’t know he was being used by God. (Applause.) Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that. (Applause.)
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley — (applause) — how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond — not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.
Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace. (Applause.)
This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. (Applause.) The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. (Applause.) I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see. (Applause.)
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God — (applause) — as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.
As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. (Applause.) He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. (Applause.) We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.
For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens. (Applause.) It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — (applause) — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. (Applause.) For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.
Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — (applause) — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. (Applause.) It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace. (Applause.)
But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. (Applause.) For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career. (Applause.)
Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. (Applause.) Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system — (applause) — and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure. (Applause.)
Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. (Applause.) So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. (Applause.) By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace. (Applause.)
For too long —
AUDIENCE: For too long!
THE PRESIDENT: For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation. (Applause.) Sporadically, our eyes are open: When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed — the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.
The vast majority of Americans — the majority of gun owners — want to do something about this. We see that now. (Applause.) And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country — by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace. (Applause.)
We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. (Applause.) But God gives it to us anyway. (Applause.) And we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.
None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race. We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. And we don’t need more talk. (Applause.) None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy. It will not. People of goodwill will continue to debate the merits of various policies, as our democracy requires — this is a big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates. Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete.
But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. (Applause.) Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual — that’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society. (Applause.) To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change — that’s how we lose our way again.
It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits, whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.
Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history — we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.” (Applause.) What is true in the South is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other. That my liberty depends on you being free, too. (Applause.) That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past — how to break the cycle. A roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind — but, more importantly, an open heart.
That’s what I’ve felt this week — an open heart. That, more than any particular policy or analysis, is what’s called upon right now, I think — what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness, beyond, and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”
That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible. (Applause.) If we can tap that grace, everything can change. (Applause.)
Amazing grace. Amazing grace.
(Begins to sing) — Amazing grace — (applause) — how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see. (Applause.)
Clementa Pinckney found that grace.
Cynthia Hurd found that grace.
Susie Jackson found that grace.
Ethel Lance found that grace.
DePayne Middleton-Doctor found that grace.
Tywanza Sanders found that grace.
Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace.
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace.
Myra Thompson found that grace.
Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America. (Applause.)
3:28 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 26, 2015
Full Text Obama Presidency June 18, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Charleston Church Shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina Transcript
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:
Statement by the President on the Shooting in Charleston, South Carolina
Source: WH, 6-18-15
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:20 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. This morning, I spoke with, and Vice President Biden spoke with, Mayor Joe Riley and other leaders of Charleston to express our deep sorrow over the senseless murders that took place last night.
Michelle and I know several members of Emanuel AME Church. We knew their pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who, along with eight others, gathered in prayer and fellowship and was murdered last night. And to say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, and their community doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel.
Any death of this sort is a tragedy. Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.
Mother Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church. This is a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery. When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, they conducted services in secret. When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country closer in line with our highest ideals, some of our brightest leaders spoke and led marches from this church’s steps. This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America.
The FBI is now on the scene with local police, and more of the Bureau’s best are on the way to join them. The Attorney General has announced plans for the FBI to open a hate crime investigation. We understand that the suspect is in custody. And I’ll let the best of law enforcement do its work to make sure that justice is served.
Until the investigation is complete, I’m necessarily constrained in terms of talking about the details of the case. But I don’t need to be constrained about the emotions that tragedies like this raise. I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. Now is the time for mourning and for healing.
But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.
The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.
The good news is I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome. That, certainly, was Dr. King’s hope just over 50 years ago, after four little girls were killed in a bombing in a black church in Birmingham, Alabama.
He said they lived meaningful lives, and they died nobly. “They say to each of us,” Dr. King said, “black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely with [about] who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream.
“And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.”
Reverend Pinckney and his congregation understood that spirit. Their Christian faith compelled them to reach out not just to members of their congregation, or to members of their own communities, but to all in need. They opened their doors to strangers who might enter a church in search of healing or redemption.
Mother Emanuel church and its congregation have risen before –- from flames, from an earthquake, from other dark times -– to give hope to generations of Charlestonians. And with our prayers and our love, and the buoyancy of hope, it will rise again now as a place of peace.
12:28 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on June 18, 2015
Full Text Political Transcripts April 29, 2015: Hillary Clinton’s speech on criminal justice reform response to Baltimore Riots at Columbia University
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:
Hillary Clinton’s speech on criminal justice reform
Source: Vox, 4-29-15
Thank you so much. I am absolutely delighted to be back here at Columbia. I want to thank President Bollinger, Dean Janow, and everyone at the School of International and Public Affairs. It is a special treat to be here with and on behalf of a great leader of this city and our country, David Dinkins. He has made such an indelible impact on New York, and I had the great privilege of working with him as First Lady and then, of course, as a new senator.
When I was just starting out as a senator, David’s door was always open. He and his wonderful wife Joyce were great friends and supporters and good sounding boards about ideas that we wanted to consider to enhance the quality of life and the opportunities for the people of this city. I was pleased to address the Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum in my first year as a senator, and I so appreciated then as I have in the years since David’s generosity with his time and most of all his wisdom. So 14 years later, I’m honored to have this chance, once again, to help celebrate the legacy of one of New York’s greatest public servants.
I’m pleased too that you will have the opportunity after my remarks to hear from such a distinguished panel, to go into more detail about some of the issues that we face. I also know that Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer is here, along with other local and community leaders.
Because surely this is a time when our collective efforts to devise approaches to the problems that still afflict us is more important than ever. Indeed, it is a time for wisdom.
For yet again, the family of a young black man is grieving a life cut short.
Yet again, the streets of an American city are marred by violence. By shattered glass and shouts of anger and shows of force.
Yet again a community is reeling, its fault lines laid bare and its bonds of trust and respect frayed.
Yet again, brave police officers have been attacked in the line of duty.
What we’ve seen in Baltimore should, indeed does, tear at our soul.
And, from Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore, the patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable.
Walter Scott shot in the back in Charleston, South Carolina. Unarmed. In debt. And terrified of spending more time in jail for child support payments he couldn’t afford.
Tamir Rice shot in a park in Cleveland, Ohio. Unarmed and just 12 years old.
Eric Garner choked to death after being stopped for selling cigarettes on the streets of this city.
And now Freddie Gray. His spine nearly severed while in police custody.
Not only as a mother and a grandmother but as a citizen, a human being, my heart breaks for these young men and their families.
We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America.
There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts.
There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes. And an estimated 1.5 million black men are “missing” from their families and communities because of incarceration and premature death.
There is something wrong when more than one out of every three young black men in Baltimore can’t find a job.
There is something wrong when trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve breaks down as far as it has in many of our communities.
We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance. And these recent tragedies should galvanize us to come together as a nation to find our balance again.
We should begin by heeding the pleas of Freddie Gray’s family for peace and unity, echoing the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others in the past years.
Those who are instigating further violence in Baltimore are disrespecting the Gray family and the entire community. They are compounding the tragedy of Freddie Gray’s death and setting back the cause of justice. So the violence has to stop.
But more broadly, let’s remember that everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law and when everyone in every community is respected by the law. That is what we have to work towards in Baltimore and across our country.
We must urgently begin to rebuild the bonds of trust and respect among Americans. Between police and citizens, yes, but also across society.
Restoring trust in our politics, our press, our markets. Between and among neighbors and even people with whom we disagree politically.
This is so fundamental to who we are as a nation and everything we want to achieve together.
It truly is about how we treat each other and what we value. Making it possible for every American to reach his or her God-given potential—regardless of who you are, where you were born, or who you love.
The inequities that persist in our justice system undermine this shared vision of what America can be and should be.
I learned this firsthand as a young attorney just out of law school—at one of those law schools that will remain nameless here at Columbia. One of my earliest jobs for the Children’s Defense Fund, which David had mentioned—I was so fortunate to work with Marian Wright Edelman as a young lawyer and then serving on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund—was studying the problem then of youth, teenagers, sometimes preteens, incarcerated in adult jails. Then, as director of the University of Arkansas School of Law’s legal aid clinic, I advocated on behalf of prison inmates and poor families.
I saw repeatedly how our legal system can be and all too often is stacked against those who have the least power, who are the most vulnerable.
I saw how families could be and were torn apart by excessive incarceration. I saw the toll on children growing up in homes shattered by poverty and prison.
So, unfortunately, I know these are not new challenges by any means.
In fact they have become even more complex and urgent over time. And today they demand fresh thinking and bold action from all of us.
Today there seems to be a growing bipartisan movement for commonsense reforms in our criminal justice systems. Senators as disparate on the political spectrum as Cory Booker and Rand Paul and Dick Durbin and Mike Lee are reaching across the aisle to find ways to work together. It is rare to see Democrats and Republicans agree on anything today. But we’re beginning to agreeing on this: We need to restore balance to our criminal justice system.
Now of course it is not enough just to agree and give speeches about it—we actually have to work together to get the job done.
We need to deliver real reforms that can be felt on our streets, in our courthouses, and our jails and prisons, in communities too long neglected.
Let me touch on two areas in particular where I believe we need to push for more progress.
First, we need smart strategies to fight crime that help restore trust between law enforcement and our communities, especially communities of color.
There’s a lot of good work to build on. Across the country, there are so many police officers out there every day inspiring trust and confidence, honorably doing their duty, putting themselves on the line to save lives. There are police departments already deploying creative and effective strategies, demonstrating how we can protect the public without resorting to unnecessary force. We need to learn from those examples, build on what works.
We can start by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.
President Obama’s task force on policing gives us a good place to start. Its recommendations offer a roadmap for reform, from training to technology, guided by more and better data.
We should make sure every police department in the country has body cameras to record interactions between officers on patrol and suspects.
That will improve transparency and accountability, it will help protect good people on both sides of the lens. For every tragedy caught on tape, there surely have been many more that remained invisible. Not every problem can be or will be prevented with cameras, but this is a commonsense step we should take.
The President has provided the idea of matching funds to state and local governments investing in body cameras. We should go even further and make this the norm everywhere.
And we should listen to law enforcement leaders who are calling for a renewed focus on working with communities to prevent crime, rather than measuring success just by the number of arrests or convictions.
As your Senator from New York, I supported a greater emphasis on community policing, along with putting more officers on the street to get to know those communities.
David Dinkins was an early pioneer of this policy. His leadership helped lay the foundation for dramatic drops in crime in the years that followed.
And today smart policing in communities that builds relationships, partnerships, and trust makes more sense than ever.
And it shouldn’t be limited just to officers on the beat. It’s an ethic that should extend throughout our criminal justice system. To prosecutors and parole officers. To judges and lawmakers.
We all share a responsibility to help re-stitch the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities.
We also have to be honest about the gaps that exist across our country, the inequality that stalks our streets. Because you cannot talk about smart policing and reforming the criminal justice system if you also don’t talk about what’s needed to provide economic opportunity, better educational chances for young people, more support to families so they can do the best jobs they are capable of doing to help support their own children.
Today I saw an article on the front page of USA Today that really struck me, written by a journalist who lives in Baltimore. And here’s what I read three times to make sure I was reading correctly: “At a conference in 2013 at Johns Hopkins University, Vice Provost Jonathan Bagger pointed out that only six miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Hollins Market.
But there is a 20-year difference in the average life expectancy.” We have learned in the last few years that life expectancy, which is a measure of the quality of life in communities and countries, manifests the same inequality that we see in so many other parts of our society.
Women—white women without high school education—are losing life expectancy. Black men and black women are seeing their life expectancy goes down in so many parts of our country.
This may not grab headlines, although I was glad to see it on the front page of USA Today. But it tells us more than I think we can bear about what we are up against.
We need to start understanding how important it is to care for every single child as though that child were our own.
David and I started our conversation this morning talking about our grandchildren; now his are considerably older than mine. But it was not just two longtime friends catching up with each other. It was so clearly sharing what is most important to us, as it is to families everywhere in our country.
So I don’t want the discussion about criminal justice, smart policing, to be siloed and to permit discussions and arguments and debates about it to only talk about that. The conversation needs to be much broader. Because that is a symptom, not a cause, of what ails us today.
The second area where we need to chart a new course is how we approach punishment and prison.
It’s a stark fact that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago, despite the fact that crime is at historic lows.
Of the more than 2 million Americans incarcerated today, a significant percentage are low-level offenders: people held for violating parole or minor drug crimes, or who are simply awaiting trial in backlogged courts.
Keeping them behind bars does little to reduce crime. But it is does a lot to tear apart families and communities.
One in every 28 children now has a parent in prison. Think about what that means for those children.
When we talk about one and a half million missing African American men, we’re talking about missing husbands, missing fathers, missing brothers.
They’re not there to look after their children or bring home a paycheck. And the consequences are profound.
Without the mass incarceration that we currently practice, millions fewer people would be living in poverty.
And it’s not just families trying to stay afloat with one parent behind bars. Of the 600,000 prisoners who reenter society each year, roughly 60 percent face long-term unemployment.
And for all this, taxpayers are paying about $80 billion a year to keep so many people in prison.
The price of incarcerating a single inmate is often more than $30,000 per year—and up to $60,000 in some states. That’s the salary of a teacher or police officer.
One year in a New Jersey state prison costs $44,000—more than the annual tuition at Princeton.
If the United States brought our correctional expenditures back in line with where they were several decades ago, we’d save an estimated $28 billion a year. And I believe we would not be less safe. You can pay a lot of police officers and nurses and others with $28 billion to help us deal with the pipeline issues.
It’s time to change our approach. It’s time to end the era of mass incarceration. We need a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population while keeping our communities safe.
I don’t know all the answers. That’s why I’m here—to ask all the smart people in Columbia and New York to start thinking this through with me. I know we should work together to pursue together to pursue alternative punishments for low-level offenders. They do have to be in some way registered in the criminal justice system, but we don’t want that to be a fast track to long-term criminal activity, we don’t want to create another “incarceration generation.”
I’ve been encouraged to see changes that I supported as Senator to reduce the unjust federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine crimes finally become law.
And last year, the Sentencing Commission reduced recommended prison terms for some drug crimes.
President Obama and former Attorney General Holder have led the way with important additional steps. And I am looking forward to our new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, carrying this work forward.
There are other measures that I and so many others have championed to reform arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences are long overdue.
We also need probation and drug diversion programs to deal swiftly with violations, while allowing low-level offenders who stay clean and stay out of trouble to stay out of prison. I’ve seen the positive effects of specialized drug courts and juvenile programs work to the betterment of individuals and communities. And please, please, let us put mental health back at the top of our national agenda.
You and I know that the promise of de-institutionalizing those in mental health facilities was supposed to be followed by the creation of community-based treatment centers. Well, we got half of that equation—but not the other half. Our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions.
I have to tell you I was somewhat surprised in both Iowa and New Hampshire to be asked so many questions about mental health. “What are we going to do with people who need help for substance abuse or mental illness?” “What are we going to do when the remaining facilities are being shut down for budget reasons?” “What are we going to do when hospitals don’t really get reimbursed for providing the kind of emergency care that is needed for mental health patients?”
It’s not just a problem in our cities. There’s a quiet epidemic of substance abuse sweeping small-town and rural America as well. We have to do more and finally get serious about treatment.
I’ll be talking about all of this in the months to come, offering new solutions to protect and strengthen our families and communities.
I know in a time when we’re afflicted by short-termism, we’re not looking over the horizon for the investments that we need to make in our fellow citizens, in our children. So I’m well aware that progress will not be easy, despite the emerging bipartisan consensus for certain reforms. And that we will have to overcome deep divisions and try to begin to replenish our depleted reservoirs of trust.
But I am convinced, as the congenital optimist I must be to live my life, that we can rise to this challenge. We can heal our wounds. We can restore balance to our justice system and respect in our communities. And we can make sure that we take actions that are going to make a difference in the lives of those who for too long have been marginalized and forgotten.
Let’s protect the rights of all our people. Let’s take on the broader inequities in our society. You can’t separate out the unrest we see in the streets from the cycles of poverty and despair that hollow out those neighborhoods.
Despite all the progress we’ve made in this country lifting people up—and it has been extraordinary—too many of our fellow citizens are still left out.
Twenty-five years ago, in his inaugural address as Mayor, David Dinkins warned of leaving “too many lost amidst the wealth and grandeur that surrounds us.”
Today, his words and the emotion behind them ring truer than ever. You don’t have to look too far from this magnificent hall to find children still living in poverty or trapped in failing schools. Families who work hard but can’t afford the rising prices in their neighborhood.
Mothers and fathers who fear for their sons’ safety when they go off to school—or just to go buy a pack of Skittles.
These challenges are all woven together. And they all must be tackled together.
Our goal must truly be inclusive and lasting prosperity that’s measured by how many families get ahead and stay ahead…
How many children climb out of poverty and stay out of prison…
How many young people can go to college without breaking the bank…
How many new immigrants can start small businesses …
How many parents can get good jobs that allow them to balance the demands of work and family.
That’s how we should measure prosperity. With all due respect, that is a far better measurement than the size of the bonuses handed out in downtown office buildings.
Now even in the most painful times like those we are seeing in Baltimore …
When parents fear for their children…
When smoke fills the skies above our cities…
When police officers are assaulted…
Even then—especially then—let’s remember the aspirations and values that unite us all: That every person should have the opportunity to succeed. That no one is disposable. That every life matters.
So yes, Mayor Dinkins. This is a time for wisdom.
A time for honesty about race and justice in America.
And, yes, a time for reform.
David Dinkins is a leader we can look to. We know what he stood for. Let us take the challenge and example he presents and think about what we must do to make sure that this country we love—this city we live in—are both good and great.
And please join me in saying a prayer for the family of Freddie Gray, and all the men whose names we know and those we don’t who have lost their lives unnecessarily and tragically. And in particular today, include in that prayer the people of Baltimore and our beloved country.
Thank you all very much.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on April 29, 2015
Full Text Obama Presidency April 28, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Baltimore Riots — Transcript
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:
President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Baltimore Riots
Source: WH, 4-28-15
With respect to Baltimore, let me make a couple of points. First, obviously our thoughts continue to be with the family of Freddie Gray. Understandably, they want answers. And DOJ has opened an investigation. It is working with local law enforcement to find out exactly what happened, and I think there should be full transparency and accountability.
Second, my thoughts are with the police officers who were injured in last night’s disturbances. It underscores that that’s a tough job and we have to keep that in mind, and my hope is that they can heal and get back to work as soon as possible.
Point number three, there’s no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive. When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting, they’re not making a statement — they’re stealing. When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities that rob jobs and opportunity from people in that area.
So it is entirely appropriate that the mayor of Baltimore, who I spoke to yesterday, and the governor, who I spoke to yesterday, work to stop that kind of senseless violence and destruction. That is not a protest. That is not a statement. It’s people — a handful of people taking advantage of a situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals.
Point number four, the violence that happened yesterday distracted from the fact that you had seen multiple days of peaceful protests that were focused on entirely legitimate concerns of these communities in Baltimore, led by clergy and community leaders. And they were constructive and they were thoughtful, and frankly, didn’t get that much attention. And one burning building will be looped on television over and over and over again, and the thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way I think have been lost in the discussion.
The overwhelming majority of the community in Baltimore I think have handled this appropriately, expressing real concern and outrage over the possibility that our laws were not applied evenly in the case of Mr. Gray, and that accountability needs to exist. And I think we have to give them credit. My understanding is, is you’ve got some of the same organizers now going back into these communities to try to clean up in the aftermath of a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place. What they were doing, what those community leaders and clergy and others were doing, that is a statement. That’s the kind of organizing that needs to take place if we’re going to tackle this problem. And they deserve credit for it, and we should be lifting them up.
Point number five — and I’ve got six, because this is important. Since Ferguson, and the task force that we put together, we have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals — primarily African American, often poor — in ways that have raised troubling questions. And it comes up, it seems like, once a week now, or once every couple of weeks. And so I think it’s pretty understandable why the leaders of civil rights organizations but, more importantly, moms and dads across the country, might start saying this is a crisis. What I’d say is this has been a slow-rolling crisis. This has been going on for a long time. This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.
The good news is, is that perhaps there’s some newfound awareness because of social media and video cameras and so forth that there are problems and challenges when it comes to how policing and our laws are applied in certain communities, and we have to pay attention to it and respond.
What’s also good news is the task force that was made up of law enforcement and community activists that we brought together here in the White House have come up with very constructive concrete proposals that, if adopted by local communities and by states and by counties, by law enforcement generally, would make a difference. It wouldn’t solve every problem, but would make a concrete difference in rebuilding trust and making sure that the overwhelming majority of effective, honest and fair law enforcement officers, that they’re able to do their job better because it will weed out or retrain or put a stop to those handful who may be not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
Now, the challenge for us as the federal government is, is that we don’t run these police forces. I can’t federalize every police force in the country and force them to retrain. But what I can do is to start working with them collaboratively so that they can begin this process of change themselves.
And coming out of the task force that we put together, we’re now working with local communities. The Department of Justice has just announced a grant program for those jurisdictions that want to purchase body cameras. We are going to be issuing grants for those jurisdictions that are prepared to start trying to implement some of the new training and data collection and other things that can make a difference. And we’re going to keep on working with those local jurisdictions so that they can begin to make the changes that are necessary.
I think it’s going to be important for organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions and organization to acknowledge that this is not good for police. We have to own up to the fact that occasionally there are going to be problems here, just as there are in every other occupation. There are some bad politicians who are corrupt. There are folks in the business community or on Wall Street who don’t do the right thing. Well, there’s some police who aren’t doing the right thing. And rather than close ranks, what we’ve seen is a number of thoughtful police chiefs and commissioners and others recognize they got to get their arms around this thing and work together with the community to solve the problem. And we’re committed to facilitating that process.
So the heads of our COPS agency that helps with community policing, they’re already out in Baltimore. Our Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division is already out in Baltimore. But we’re going to be working systematically with every city and jurisdiction around the country to try to help them implement some solutions that we know work.
And I’ll make my final point — I’m sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, but this is a pretty important issue for us.
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.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on April 28, 2015
Full Text Obama Presidency March 7, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches — Transcripts
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:
Remarks by the President at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches
Source: WH, 3-7-15
Edmund Pettus Bridge
2:17 P.M. CST
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, President Obama!
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know I love you back. (Applause.)
It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.
Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning 50 years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. A day like this was not on his mind. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation and fear. And they comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:
“No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.”
And then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, and a book on government — all you need for a night behind bars — John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.
President and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Mayor Evans, Sewell, Reverend Strong, members of Congress, elected officials, foot soldiers, friends, fellow Americans:
As John noted, there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war — Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character — Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.
Selma is such a place. In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher — all that history met on this bridge.
It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America. And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America — that idea ultimately triumphed.
As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.
We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice.
They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And in the days to come, they went back again and again. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came –- black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope. A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing. (Laughter.) To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.
In time, their chorus would well up and reach President Johnson. And he would send them protection, and speak to the nation, echoing their call for America and the world to hear: “We shall overcome.” (Applause.) What enormous faith these men and women had. Faith in God, but also faith in America.
The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities –- but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before. (Applause.)
What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.
As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse –- they were called everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism challenged.
And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place? (Applause.) What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?
What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals? (Applause.)
That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents: “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.” “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” (Applause.)
These are not just words. They’re a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all of our citizens in this work. And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma. That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom. (Applause.)
The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon. (Applause.)
It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo. That’s America. (Applause.)
That’s what makes us unique. That’s what cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity. Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down that wall. Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid. Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule. They saw what John Lewis had done. From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest power and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.
They saw that idea made real right here in Selma, Alabama. They saw that idea manifest itself here in America.
Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed. Political and economic and social barriers came down. And the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus all the way to the Oval Office. (Applause.)
Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities — they all came through those doors. (Applause.) Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.
What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say. And what a solemn debt we owe. Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?
First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done. (Applause.) The American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.
Selma teaches us, as well, that action requires that we shed our cynicism. For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.
Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country. And I understood the question; the report’s narrative was sadly familiar. It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic. It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom. And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was. (Applause.)
We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.
Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished; that the work that drew men and women to Selma is now complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.
We know the march is not yet over. We know the race is not yet won. We know that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged, all of us, by the content of our character requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth. “We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin once wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”
There’s nothing America can’t handle if we actually look squarely at the problem. And this is work for all Americans, not just some. Not just whites. Not just blacks. If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel as they did the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize as they did that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built. (Applause.)
With such an effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some. Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on –- the idea that police officers are members of the community they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland, they just want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago -– the protection of the law. (Applause.) Together, we can address unfair sentencing and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and good workers, and good neighbors. (Applause.)
With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. Americans don’t accept a free ride for anybody, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity. And if we really mean it, if we’re not just giving lip service to it, but if we really mean it and are willing to sacrifice for it, then, yes, we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts sights and gives those children the skills they need. We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.
And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote. (Applause.) Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.
How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts. (Applause.) President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. (Applause.) One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it. If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year. That’s how we honor those on this bridge. (Applause.)
Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or even the President alone. If every new voter-suppression law was struck down today, we would still have, here in America, one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar, the number of bubbles on a bar of soap. It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life.
What’s our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? (Applause.) How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future? Why are we pointing to somebody else when we could take the time just to go to the polling places? (Applause.) We give away our power.
Fellow marchers, so much has changed in 50 years. We have endured war and we’ve fashioned peace. We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives. We take for granted conveniences that our parents could have scarcely imagined. But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship; that willingness of a 26-year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.
That’s what it means to love America. That’s what it means to believe in America. That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.
For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction — because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.
Look at our history. We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, and entrepreneurs and hucksters. That’s our spirit. That’s who we are.
We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some. And we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth. That is our character.
We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free –- Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan. We’re the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because we want our kids to know a better life. That’s how we came to be. (Applause.)
We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. (Applause.) We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened up the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.
We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent. And we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, and the Navajo code-talkers, and the Japanese Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied.
We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’re the gay Americans whose blood ran in the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge. (Applause.)
We are storytellers, writers, poets, artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.
We’re the inventors of gospel and jazz and blues, bluegrass and country, and hip-hop and rock and roll, and our very own sound with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.
We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway. (Applause.)
We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.” We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”
That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others. (Applause.) We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing. We are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe old age of 25 could lead a mighty march.
And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day. You are America. Unconstrained by habit and convention. Unencumbered by what is, because you’re ready to seize what ought to be.
For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.
Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person. Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” “We The People.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Yes We Can.” (Applause.) That word is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.
Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer. Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile. Somebody already got us over that bridge. When it feels the road is too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on [the] wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.” (Applause.)
We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.
May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America. Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)
2:50 P.M. CST
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 7, 2015
Political Musings December 1, 2014: Obama issues four-point plan to improve minority police relations after Ferguson
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
- December 1, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 1, 2014
Political Musings November 24, 2014: Obama urges calm after grand jury does not indict Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s death
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
Posted by bonniekgoodman on November 24, 2014
Full Text Obama Presidency November 24, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks After Announcement of the Decision by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri — Transcript
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
Remarks by the President After Announcement of the Decision by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri
Source: WH, 11-24-14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:08 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: As you know, a few moments ago, the grand jury deliberating the death of Michael Brown issued its decision. It’s an outcome that, either way, was going to be subject of intense disagreement not only in Ferguson, but across America. So I want to just say a few words suggesting how we might move forward.
First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully. Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words: “Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.” Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes.
I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur. Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law. As they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence — distinguish them from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact.
Finally, we need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation. The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates. The good news is we know there are things we can do to help. And I’ve instructed Attorney General Holder to work with cities across the country to help build better relations between communities and law enforcement.
That means working with law enforcement officials to make sure their ranks are representative of the communities they serve. We know that makes a difference. It means working to train officials so that law enforcement conducts itself in a way that is fair to everybody. It means enlisting the community actively on what should be everybody’s goal, and that is to prevent crime.
And there are good people on all sides of this debate, as well as in both Republican and Democratic parties, that are interested not only in lifting up best practices — because we know that there are communities who have been able to deal with this in an effective way — but also who are interested in working with this administration and local and state officials to start tackling much-needed criminal justice reform.
So those should be the lessons that we draw from these tragic events. We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America. We have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades. I’ve witnessed that in my own life. And to deny that progress I think is to deny America’s capacity for change.
But what is also true is that there are still problems and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up. Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion. I don’t think that’s the norm. I don’t think that’s true for the majority of communities or the vast majority of law enforcement officials. But these are real issues. And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down. What we need to do is to understand them and figure out how do we make more progress. And that can be done.
That won’t be done by throwing bottles. That won’t be done by smashing car windows. That won’t be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property. And it certainly won’t be done by hurting anybody. So, to those in Ferguson, there are ways of channeling your concerns constructively and there are ways of channeling your concerns destructively. Michael Brown’s parents understand what it means to be constructive. The vast majority of peaceful protesters, they understand it as well.
Those of you who are watching tonight understand that there’s never an excuse for violence, particularly when there are a lot of people in goodwill out there who are willing to work on these issues.
On the other hand, those who are only interested in focusing on the violence and just want the problem to go away need to recognize that we do have work to do here, and we shouldn’t try to paper it over. Whenever we do that, the anger may momentarily subside, but over time, it builds up and America isn’t everything that it could be.
And I am confident that if we focus our attention on the problem and we look at what has happened in communities around the country effectively, then we can make progress not just in Ferguson, but in a lot of other cities and communities around the country.
Q Mr. President, will you go to Ferguson when things settle down there?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let’s take a look and see how things are going. Eric Holder has been there. We’ve had a whole team from the Justice Department there, and I think that they have done some very good work. As I said, the vast majority of the community has been working very hard to try to make sure that this becomes an opportunity for us to seize the moment and turn this into a positive situation.
But I think that we have to make sure that we focus at least as much attention on all those positive activities that are taking place as we do on a handful of folks who end up using this as an excuse to misbehave or to break the law or to engage in violence. I think that it’s going to be very important — and I think the media is going to have a responsibility as well — to make sure that we focus on Michael Brown’s parents, and the clergy, and the community leaders, and the civil rights leaders, and the activists, and law enforcement officials who have been working very hard to try to find better solutions — long-term solutions, to this issue.
There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it will make for good TV. But what we want to do is to make sure that we’re also focusing on those who can offer the kind of real progress that we know is possible, that the vast majority of people in Ferguson, the St. Louis region, in Missouri, and around the country are looking for. And I want to be partners with those folks. And we need to lift up that kind of constructive dialogue that’s taking place.
END 10:18 P.M. EST
Posted by bonniekgoodman on November 24, 2014
Full Text Obama Presidency September 27, 2014: President Obama’s Speech at Congressional Black Caucus Awards Dinner — Transcript
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
Remarks by the President at Congressional Black Caucus Awards Dinner
Source: WH, 9-27-14
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
9:06 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, CBC! (Applause.) Thank you so much. Everybody, have a seat. It is good to be with you here tonight. If it wasn’t black tie I would have worn my tan suit. (Laughter.) I thought it looked good. (Laughter.)
Thank you, Chaka, for that introduction. Thanks to all of you for having me here this evening. I want to acknowledge the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Chairwoman Marcia Fudge for their outstanding work. (Applause.) Thank you, Shuanise Washington, and the CBC Foundation for doing so much to help our young people aim high and reach their potential.
Tonight, I want to begin by paying special tribute to a man with whom all of you have worked closely with; someone who served his country for nearly 40 years as a prosecutor, as a judge, and as Attorney General of the United States: Mr. Eric Holder. (Applause.) Throughout his long career in public service, Eric has built a powerful legacy of making sure that equal justice under the law actually means something; that it applies to everybody — regardless of race, or gender, or religion, or color, creed, disability, sexual orientation. He has been a great friend of mine. He has been a faithful servant of the American people. We will miss him badly. (Applause.)
This year, we’ve been marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. We honor giants like John Lewis — (applause); unsung heroines like Evelyn Lowery. We honor the countless Americans, some who are in this room — black, white, students, scholars, preachers, housekeepers, patriots all, who, with their bare hands, reached into the well of our nation’s founding ideals and helped to nurture a more perfect union. We’ve reminded ourselves that progress is not just absorbing what has been done — it’s advancing what’s left undone.
Even before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, even as the debate dragged on in the Senate, he was already challenging America to do more and march further, to build a Great Society — one, Johnson said, “where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled. Where no man who wants work will fail to find it. Where no citizen will be barred from any door because of his birthplace or his color or his church. Where peace and security is common among neighbors and possible among nations.” “This is the world that waits for you,” he said. “Reach out for it now. Join the fight to finish the unfinished work.” To finish the unfinished work.
America has made stunning progress since that time, over the past 50 years — even over the past five years. But it is the unfinished work that drives us forward.
Some of our unfinished work lies beyond our borders. America is leading the effort to rally the world against Russian aggression in Ukraine. America is leading the fight to contain and combat Ebola in Africa. America is building and leading the coalition that will degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL. As Americans, we are leading, and we don’t shy away from these responsibilities; we welcome them. (Applause.) That’s what America does. And we are grateful to the men and women in uniform who put themselves in harm’s way in service of the country that we all love. (Applause.)
So we’ve got unfinished work overseas, but we’ve got some unfinished work right here at home. (Applause.) After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have now created 10 million new jobs over the last 54 months. This is the longest uninterrupted stretch of job growth in our history. (Applause.) In our history. But we understand our work is not done until we get the kind of job creation that means everybody who wants work can a find job.
We’ve done some work on health care, too. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we’ve seen a 26 percent decline in the uninsured rate in America. (Applause.) African Americans have seen a 30 percent decline. And, by the way, the cost of health care isn’t going up as fast anymore either. Everybody was predicting this was all going to be so expensive. We’ve saved $800 billion — (applause) — in Medicare because of the work that we’ve done — slowing the cost, improving quality, and improving access. Despite unyielding opposition, this change has happened just in the last couple years.
But we know our work is not yet done until we get into more communities, help more uninsured folks get covered, especially in those states where the governors aren’t being quite as cooperative as we’d like them to be. (Applause.) You know who you are. It always puzzles me when you decide to take a stand to make sure poor folks in your state can’t get health insurance even though it doesn’t cost you a dime. That doesn’t make much sense to me, but I won’t go on on that topic. (Applause.) We’ve got more work to do.
It’s easy to take a stand when you’ve got health insurance. (Laughter and applause.) I’m going off script now, but — (laughter) — that’s what happens at the CBC.
Our high school graduation rate is at a record high, the dropout rate is falling, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before. Last year, the number of children living in poverty fell by 1.4 million — the largest decline since 1966. (Applause.) Since I took office, the overall crime rate and the overall incarceration rate has gone down by about 10 percent. That’s the first time they’ve declined at the same time in more than 40 years. Fewer folks in jail. Crime still going down. (Applause.)
But our work is not done when too many children live in crumbling neighborhoods, cycling through substandard schools, traumatized by daily violence. Our work is not done when working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar; when African-American unemployment is still twice as high as white unemployment; when income inequality, on the rise for decades, continues to hold back hardworking communities, especially communities of color. We’ve got unfinished work. And we know what to do. That’s the worst part — we know what to do.
We know we’ve got to invest in infrastructure, and manufacturing, and research and development that creates new jobs. We’ve got to keep rebuilding a middle class economy with ladders of opportunity, so that hard work pays off and you see higher wages and higher incomes, and fair pay for women doing the same work as men, and workplace flexibility for parents in case a child gets sick or a parent needs some help. (Applause.) We’ve got to build more Promise Zones partnerships to support local revitalization of hard-hit communities. We’ve got to keep investing in early education. We want to bring preschool to every four-year-old in this country. (Applause.) And we want every child to have an excellent teacher. And we want to invest in our community colleges and expand Pell Grants for more students. And I’m going to keep working with you to make college more affordable. Because every child in America, no matter who she is, no matter where she’s born, no matter how much money her parents have, ought to be able to fulfill her God-given potential. That’s what we believe. (Applause.)
So I just want everybody to understand — we have made enormous progress. There’s almost no economic measure by which we are not better off than when I took office. (Applause.) Unemployment down. Deficits down. Uninsured down. Poverty down. Energy production up. Manufacturing back. Auto industry back. But — and I just list these things just so if you have a discussion with one of your friends — (laughter) — and they’re confused. Stock market up. Corporate balance sheet strong. In fact, the folks who are doing the best, they’re the ones who complain the most. (Laughter and applause.) So you can just point these things out.
But we still have to close these opportunity gaps. And we have to close the justice gap — how justice is applied, but also how it is perceived, how it is experienced. (Applause.) Eric Holder understands this. (Applause.) That’s what we saw in Ferguson this summer, when Michael Brown was killed and a community was divided. We know that the unrest continues. And Eric spent some time with the residents and police of Ferguson, and the Department of Justice has indicated that its civil rights investigation is ongoing.
Now, I won’t comment on the investigation. I know that Michael’s family is here tonight. (Applause.) I know that nothing any of us can say can ease the grief of losing a child so soon. But the anger and the emotion that followed his death awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.
Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness. We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities. That’s just the statistics. One recent poll showed that the majority of Americans think the criminal justice system doesn’t treat people of all races equally. Think about that. That’s not just blacks, not just Latinos or Asians or Native Americans saying things may not be unfair. That’s most Americans.
And that has a corrosive effect — not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America. It harms the communities that need law enforcement the most. It makes folks who are victimized by crime and need strong policing reluctant to go to the police because they may not trust them. And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children. It scars the hearts of the white kids who grow unnecessarily fearful of somebody who doesn’t look like them. It stains the heart of black children who feel as if no matter what he does, he will always be under suspicion. That is not the society we want. It’s not the society that our children deserve. (Applause.) Whether you’re black or white, you don’t want that for America.
It was interesting — Ferguson was used by some of America’s enemies and critics to deflect attention from their shortcomings overseas; to undermine our efforts to promote justice around the world. They said, well, look at what’s happened to you back home.
But as I said this week at the United Nations, America is special not because we’re perfect; America is special because we work to address our problems, to make our union more perfect. We fight for more justice. (Applause.) We fight to cure what ails us. We fight for our ideals, and we’re willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short. And we address our differences in the open space of democracy — with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and religion; and with an unyielding belief that people who love their country can change it. That’s what makes us special — not because we don’t have problems, but because we work to fix them. And we will continue to work to fix this.
And to that end, we need to help communities and law enforcement build trust, build understanding, so that our neighborhoods stay safe and our young people stay on track. And under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department has launched a national effort to do just that. He’s also been working to make the criminal justice system smarter and more effective by addressing unfair sentencing disparities, changing department policies on charging mandatory minimums, promoting stronger reentry programs for those who have paid their debt to society. (Applause.)
And we need to address the unique challenges that make it hard for some of our young people to thrive. For all the success stories that exist in a room like this one, we all know relatives, classmates, neighbors who were just as smart as we were, just as capable as we were, born with the same light behind their eyes, the same joy, the same curiosity about the world — but somehow they didn’t get the support they needed, or the encouragement they needed, or they made a mistake, or they missed an opportunity; they weren’t able to overcome the obstacles that they faced.
And so, in February, we launched My Brother’s Keeper. (Applause.) And I was the first one to acknowledge government can’t play the only, or even the primary, role in the lives of our children. But what we can do is bring folks together, and that’s what we’re doing — philanthropies, business leaders, entrepreneurs, faith leaders, mayors, educators, athletes, and the youth themselves — to examine how can we ensure that our young men have the tools they need to achieve their full potential.
And next week, I’m launching My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, asking every community in the country — big cities and small towns, rural counties, tribal nations — to publicly commit to implementing strategies that will ensure all young people can succeed, starting from the cradle, all the way to college and a career. It’s a challenge to local leaders to follow the evidence and use the resources on what works for our kids. And we’ve already got 100 mayors, county officials, tribal leaders, Democrats, Republicans signed on. And we’re going to keep on signing them up in the coming weeks and months. (Applause.) But they’re going to need you — elected leaders, business leaders, community leaders — to make this effort successful. We need all of us to come together to help all of our young people address the variety of challenges they face.
And we’re not forgetting about the girls, by the way. I got two daughters — I don’t know if you noticed. (Laughter.) African American girls are more likely than their white peers also to be suspended, incarcerated, physically harassed. Black women struggle every day with biases that perpetuate oppressive standards for how they’re supposed to look and how they’re supposed to act. Too often, they’re either left under the hard light of scrutiny, or cloaked in a kind of invisibility.
So in addition to the new efforts on My Brother’s Keeper, the White House Council for Women and Girls has for years been working on issues affecting women and girls of color, from violence against women, to pay equity, to access to health care. And you know Michelle has been working on that. (Applause.) Because she doesn’t think our daughters should be treated differently than anybody else’s son. I’ve got a vested interest in making sure that our daughters have the same opportunities as boys do. (Applause.)
So that’s the world we’ve got to reach for — the world where every single one of our children has the opportunity to pursue their measure of happiness. That’s our unfinished work. And we’re going to have to fight for it. We’ve got to stand up for it. And we have to vote for it. We have to vote for it. (Applause.)
All around the country, wherever I see folks, they always say, oh, Barack, we’re praying for you — boy, you’re so great; look, you got all gray hair, you looking tired. (Laughter.) We’re praying for you. Which I appreciate. (Laughter.) But I tell them, after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he immediately moved on to what he called “the meat in the coconut” — a voting rights act bill. And some of his administration argued that’s too much, it’s too soon. But the movement knew that if we rested after the Civil Rights Act, then all we could do was pray that somebody would enforce those rights. (Applause.)
So whenever I hear somebody say they’re praying for me, I say “thank you.” Thank you — I believe in the power of prayer. But we know more than prayer. We need to vote. (Applause.) We need to vote. That will be helpful. It will not relieve me of my gray hair, but it will help me pass some bills. (Laughter.)
Because people refused to give in when it was hard, we get to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act next year. Until then, we’ve got to protect it. We can’t just celebrate it; we’ve got to protect it. Because there are people still trying to pass voter ID laws to make it harder for folks to vote. And we’ve got to get back to our schools and our offices and our churches, our beauty shops, barber shops, and make sure folks know there’s an election coming up, they need to know how to register, and they need to know how and when to vote.
We’ve got to tell them to push back against the cynics; prove everybody wrong who says that change isn’t possible. Cynicism does not fix anything. Cynicism is very popular in America sometimes. It’s propagated in the media. But cynicism didn’t put anybody on the moon. Cynicism didn’t pass the Voting Rights Act. Hope is what packed buses full of freedom riders. Hope is what led thousands of black folks and white folks to march from Selma to Montgomery. Hope is what got John Lewis off his back after being beaten within an inch of his life, and chose to keep on going. (Applause.)
Cynicism is a choice, but hope is a better choice. And our job right now is to convince the people who are privileged to represent to join us in finishing that fight that folks like John started. Get those souls to the polls. Exercise their right to vote. And if we do, then I guarantee you we’ve got a brighter future ahead.
Thank you, God bless you. Keep praying. But go out there and vote. God bless America. (Applause.)
END 9:29 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 28, 2014
Political Musings August 22, 2014: Holder’s visit to Ferguson calms community after Michael Brown shooting, unrest
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
OP-EDS & ARTICLES
- August 22, 2014
Attorney General Eric Holder was the first member of President Barack Obama’s administration to visit Ferguson, Missouri since unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown’s shooting death by a white police officer, Darren Wilson on Aug. 9…READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 22, 2014
Full Text Obama Presidency August 20, 2014: Attorney General Eric Holder’s Remarks in Ferguson, Missouri about Michael Brown Shooting and Unrest — Transcript
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
Excerpts of Attorney General Eric Holder’s Remarks at a Community College
Souce: DOJ, 8-20-14
Florissant Valley Community College ~ Wednesday, August 20, 2014
“The eyes of the nation and the world are watching Ferguson right now. The world is watching because the issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown predate this incident. This is something that has a history to it and the history simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.
“We have seen a great deal of progress over the years. But we also see problems and these problems stem from mistrust and mutual suspicion.
“I just had the opportunity to sit down with some wonderful young people and to hear them talk about the mistrust they have at a young age. These are young people and already they are concerned about potential interactions they might have with the police.
“I understand that mistrust. I am the Attorney General of the United States. But I am also a black man. I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. Pulled over…“Let me search your car”…Go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff. I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.
“I think about my time in Georgetown – a nice neighborhood of Washington – and I am running to a picture movie at about 8 o’clock at night. I am running with my cousin. Police car comes driving up, flashes his lights, yells “Where you going? Hold it!” I say “Woah, I’m going to a movie.” Now my cousin started mouthing off. I’m like, “This is not where we want to go. Keep quiet.” I’m angry and upset. We negotiate the whole thing and we walk to our movie. At the time that he stopped me, I was a federal prosecutor. I wasn’t a kid. I was a federal prosecutor. I worked at the United States Department of Justice. So I’ve confronted this myself.”
“We are starting here a good dialogue. But the reality is the dialogue is not enough. We need concrete action to change things in this country. That’s what I have been trying to do. That’s what the President has been trying to do. We have a very active Civil Rights Division. I am proud of what these men and women have done. As they write about the legacy of the Obama administration, a lot of it is going to be about what the Civil Rights Division has done.
“So this interaction must occur. This dialogue is important. But it can’t simply be that we have a conversation that begins based on what happens on August 9, and ends sometime in December, and nothing happens. As I was just telling these young people, change is possible. The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the Attorney General of the United States. This country is capable of change. But change doesn’t happen by itself.
“So let’s start here. Let’s do the work today.”
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 20, 2014
Full Text Obama Presidency August 18, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference on the Unrest in Ferguson, Missouri over Michael Brown’s Shooting and Update on Iraq Airtrikes and Recapture of Mosul Dam — Transcript
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
Statement by the President
Source: WH, 8-18-14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
4:27 P.M. PDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Earlier today I received an update from my team on two separate issues that I’ve been following closely — our ongoing operation in Iraq and the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.
With respect to Iraq, we continue to see important progress across different parts of our strategy to support the Iraqi government and combat the threat from the terrorist group, ISIL. First, our military operations are effectively protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq. Over the last 11 days, American airstrikes have stopped the ISIL advance around the city of Erbil and pushed back the terrorists. Meanwhile, we have urgently provided additional arms and assistance to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish and Iraqi security forces who are fighting on the front lines.
Today, with our support, Iraqi and Kurdish forces took a major step forward by recapturing the largest dam in Iraq near the city of Mosul. The Mosul Dam fell under terrorist control earlier this month and is directly tied to our objective of protecting Americans in Iraq. If that dam was breached, it could have proven catastrophic, with floods that would have threatened the lives of thousands of civilians and endangered our embassy compound in Baghdad. Iraqi and Kurdish forces took the lead on the ground and performed with courage and determination. So this operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together in taking the fight to ISIL. If they continue to do so, they will have the strong support of the United States of America.
Second, we’re building an international coalition to address the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq. Even as we’ve worked to help many thousands of Yazidis escape the siege of Mount Sinjar, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by ISIL’s violence and many more are still at risk. Going forward, the United States will work with the Iraqi government, as well as partners like the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Australia, to get food and water to people in need and to bring long-term relief to people who have been driven from their homes.
Third, we will continue to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide against ISIL by supporting the new Iraqi government and working with key partners in the region and beyond. Over the last week, we saw historic progress as Iraqis named a new Prime Minister-Designate Haider al-Abadi, and Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Maliki agreed to step down. This peaceful transition of power will mark a major milestone in Iraq’s political development, but as I think we’re all aware, the work is not yet done.
Over the next few weeks, Dr. Abadi needs to complete the work of forming a new, broad-based, inclusive Iraqi government, one that develops a national program to address the interests of all Iraqis. Without that progress, extremists like ISIL can continue to prey upon Iraq’s divisions. With that new government in place, Iraqis will be able to unite the country against the threat from ISIL, and they will be able to look forward to increased support not just from the United States but from other countries in the region and around the world.
Let’s remember ISIL poses a threat to all Iraqis and to the entire region. They claim to represent Sunni grievances, but they slaughter Sunni men, women and children. They claim to oppose foreign forces, but they actively recruit foreign fighters to advance their hateful ideology.
So the Iraqi people need to reject them and unite to begin to push them out of the lands that they’ve occupied, as we’re seeing at Mosul Dam. And this is going to take time. There are going to be many challenges ahead. But meanwhile, there should be no doubt that the United States military will continue to carry out the limited missions that I’ve authorized — protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq in both Erbil and Baghdad, and providing humanitarian support, as we did on Mount Sinjar.
My administration has consulted closely with Congress about our strategy in Iraq and we are going to continue to do so in the weeks to come, because when it comes to the security of our people and our efforts against a terror group like ISIL, we need to be united in our resolve.
I also want to address the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Governor Nixon, as well as Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill. I also met with Attorney General Eric Holder. The Justice Department has opened an independent federal civil rights investigation into the death of Michael Brown. They are on the ground and, along with the FBI, they are devoting substantial resources to that investigation. The Attorney General himself will be traveling to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with the FBI agents and DOJ personnel conducting the federal criminal investigation, and he will receive an update from them on their progress. He will also be meeting with other leaders in the community whose support is so critical to bringing about peace and calm in Ferguson.
Ronald Davis, the Director of the DOJ’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services — or COPS — is also traveling to Ferguson tomorrow to work with police officials on the ground. We’ve also had experts from the DOJ’s Community Relations Service working in Ferguson since the days after the shooting to foster conversations among local stakeholders and reduce tensions among the community.
So let me close just saying a few words about the tensions there. We have all seen images of protestors and law enforcement in the streets. It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting. What’s also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not. While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns, and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines rather than advancing justice.
Let me also be clear that our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded, especially in moments like these. There’s no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully. Ours is a nation of laws for the citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them.
So to a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other. Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other. As Americans, we’ve got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that’s been laid bare by this moment — the potential of a young man and the sorrows of parents, the frustrations of a community, the ideals that we hold as one united American family.
I’ve said this before — in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear. Through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, I’m personally committed to changing both perception and reality. And already we’re making some significant progress as people of goodwill of all races are ready to chip in. But that requires that we build and not tear down. And that requires we listen and not just shout. That’s how we’re going to move forward together, by trying to unite each other and understand each other, and not simply divide ourselves from one another. We’re going to have to hold tight to those values in the days ahead. That’s how we bring about justice, and that’s how we bring about peace.
So with that, I’ve got a few questions I’m going to take. I’m going to start with Jim Kuhnhenn of AP.
Q Right here, Mr. President. The incident in Ferguson has led to a discussion about whether it’s proper to militarize the nation’s city police forces, and I’m wondering whether you wonder or do you think that — you see that as a factor regarding the police response in Ferguson. And also, do you agree with the decision by the Governor to send in the National Guard?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think one of the great things about the United States has been our ability to maintain a distinction between our military and domestic law enforcement. That helps preserve our civil liberties. That helps ensure that the military is accountable to civilian direction. And that has to be preserved.
After 9/11, I think understandably, a lot of folks saw local communities that were ill-equipped for a potential catastrophic terrorist attack, and I think people in Congress, people of goodwill decided we’ve got to make sure that they get proper equipment to deal with threats that historically wouldn’t arise in local communities. And some of that has been useful. I mean, some law enforcement didn’t have radios that they could operate effectively in the midst of a disaster. Some communities needed to be prepared if, in fact, there was a chemical attack and they didn’t have HAZMAT suits.
Having said that, I think it’s probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what they’re purchasing is stuff that they actually need, because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions. And I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in reexamining some of those programs.
With respect to the National Guard, I think it’s important just to remember this was a state activated National Guard and so it’s under the charge of the Governor. This is not something that we initiated at the federal level. I spoke to Jay Nixon about this, expressed an interest in making sure that if, in fact, a National Guard is used it is used in a limited and appropriate way. He described the support role that they’re going to be providing to local law enforcement, and I’ll be watching over the next several days to assess whether, in fact, it’s helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson.
Steve Holland, Reuters.
Q Thank you. How do you avoid mission creep in Iraq? And how long do you think it will take to contain ISIL?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I have been firm from the start that we are not reintroducing thousands of U.S. troops back on the ground to engage in combat. We’re not the Iraqi military. We’re not even the Iraqi air force. I am the Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces, and Iraq is going to have to ultimately provide for its own security.
On the other hand, we’ve got a national security interest in making sure our people are protected and in making sure that a savage group that seems willing to slaughter people for no rhyme or reason other than they have not kowtowed to them — that a group like that is contained, because ultimately they can pose a threat to us.
So my goal is, number one, to make sure we’ve got a viable partner. And that’s why we have so consistently emphasized the need for a government formation process that is inclusive, that is credible, that is legitimate, and that can appeal to Sunnis as well as Shias and Kurds. We’ve made significant progress on that front, but we’re not there yet. And I told my national security team today and I will say publicly that we want to continue to communicate to politicians of all stripes in Iraq, don’t think that because we have engaged in airstrikes to protect our people that now is the time to let the foot off the gas and return to the same kind of dysfunction that has so weakened the country generally.
Dr. Abadi has said the right things. I was impressed in my conversation with him about his vision for an inclusive government. But they’ve got to get this done, because the wolf is at the door and in order for them to be credible with the Iraqi people they’re going to have to put behind some of the old practices and actually create a credible, united government.
When we see a credible Iraqi government, we are then in a position to engage when planning not just with the Iraqi government but also with regional actors and folks beyond the Middle East so that we can craft the kind of joint strategy — joint counterterrorism strategy that I discussed at West Point and I discussed several years ago to the National Defense College University**. Our goal is to have effective partners on the ground. And if we have effective partners on the ground, mission creep is much less likely.
Typically what happens with mission creep is when we start deciding that we’re the ones who have to do it all ourselves. And because of the excellence of our military, that can work for a time — we learned that in Iraq — but it’s not sustainable. It’s not lasting. And so I’ve been very firm about this precisely because our goal here has to be to be able to build up a structure not just in Iraq, but regionally, that can be maintained, and that is not involving us effectively trying to govern or impose our military will on a country that is hostile to us.
Q How long to contain ISIL then? It sounds like a long-term project.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t think, Steve, at this point I’m prepared to provide a blanket answer to that. A lot of it depends on how effectively the Iraqi government comes together. I think that you will see if, in fact, that government formation process moves rapidly and credibly that there will be a lot of actors in the region and around the world that are prepared to help and to step up assistance — many of whom may have been reticent over the last several years because the perception was, at least, that Baghdad was not being inclusive and that it was going to be self-defeating to put more resources into it.
I think you’ll see a lot of folks step up; suddenly now Iraq will have a variety of partners. And with more folks unified around the effort, I think it’s something that can be accomplished. It also means that there’s the prospect of Sunni tribes who are the primary residents of areas that ISIL now controls saying, we’ve got a viable option and we would rather work with a central government that appears to understand our grievances and is prepared to meet them rather than to deal with individuals who don’t seem to have any values beyond death and destruction.
I’m going to take the last question from somebody, who after 41 years, I understand has decided to retire — Ann Compton, everybody here knows is not only the consummate professional but is also just a pleasure to get to know. I was proud to be able to hug her grandbaby recently. And I suspect that may have something to do with her decision. But I just want to say publicly, Ann, we’re going to miss you, and we’re very, very proud of the extraordinary career and work that you’ve done, and we hope you’re not a stranger around here. (Applause.)
Q Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Ann Compton. I suspect you may get some cake at some point. (Laughter.)
Q Let me ask you, this is an interesting time in your presidency. And one of the things that you have so emphasized in the last few months, the last year or so, is this reach out to brothers — My Brother’s Keeper and to a generation that doesn’t feel that it has much chance. Sending the Attorney General to Ferguson is a step. Has anyone there — have you considered going yourself? Is there more that you personally could do not just for Ferguson but for communities that might also feel that kind of tension and see it erupt in the way it has in Ferguson?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Ann, 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 issues of local jurisdiction, the DOJ works for me and 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 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, businesses, corporations, and can we find models that work that move these young men 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 is equal before the law.
And one of the things that we’ve looked at during the course of where we can — during the course of investigating where we can make a difference is that there are 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 one of the things that we’ve done is to include the 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 I want to be clear about this, because sometimes I think there’s confusion around these issues and this dates back for decades. There are young black men that commit crime. And we can argue about why that happened — because of the poverty they were born into and the lack of opportunity, or the schools 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 who 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 that 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 training and assistance is provided to local law enforcement who 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 gray hair and none of you could pronounce my name, was 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 are some basic things that can be done to promote that kind of trust. And in some cases, there’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 to 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 may not even be residents of Ferguson, but they are damaging the cause; they’re not advancing it.
All right? Thank you very much, everybody.
4:54 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 18, 2014
Full Text Obama Presidency August 14, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement Updating in the Situations in Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
Statement by the President
Source: WH, 8-14-14
Watch the Video
12:49 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. This sound system is really powerful. Today, I’d like to update the American people on two issues that I’ve been monitoring closely these last several days.
First of all, we continue to make progress in carrying out our targeted military operations in Iraq. Last week, I authorized two limited missions: protecting our people and facilities inside of Iraq, and a humanitarian operation to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians stranded on a mountain.
A week ago, we assessed that many thousands of Yezidi men, women and children had abandoned their possessions to take refuge on Mount Sinjar in a desperate attempt to avoid slaughter. We also knew that ISIL terrorists were killing and enslaving Yezidi civilians in their custody, and laying siege to the mountain. Without food or water, they faced a terrible choice — starve on the mountain, or be slaughtered on the ground. That’s when America came to help.
Over the last week, the U.S. military conducted humanitarian air drops every night –- delivering more than 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of fresh water. We were joined in that effort by the United Kingdom, and other allies pledged support. Our military was able to successfully strike ISIL targets around the mountain, which improved conditions for civilians to evacuate the mountain safely.
Yesterday, a small team of Americans -– military and civilian -– completed their review of the conditions on the mountain. They found that food and water have been reaching those in need, and that thousands of people have been evacuating safely each and every night. The civilians who remain continue to leave, aided by Kurdish forces and Yezidis who are helping to facilitate the safe passage of their families. So the bottom line is, is that the situation on the mountain has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts.
Because of the skill and professionalism of our military –- and the generosity of our people –- we broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar; we helped vulnerable people reach safety; and we helped save many innocent lives. Because of these efforts, we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to need to continue humanitarian air drops on the mountain. The majority of the military personnel who conducted the assessment will be leaving Iraq in the coming days. And I just want to say that as Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the men and women of our military who carried out this humanitarian operation almost flawlessly. I’m very grateful to them and I know that those who were trapped on that mountain are extraordinarily grateful as well.
Now, the situation remains dire for Iraqis subjected to ISIL’s terror throughout the country, and this includes minorities like Yezidis and Iraqi Christians; it also includes Sunnis, Shia and Kurds. We’re going to be working with our international partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering in northern Iraq wherever we have capabilities and we can carry out effective missions like the one we carried out on Mount Sinjar without committing combat troops on the ground.
We obviously feel a great urge to provide some humanitarian relief to the situation and I’ve been very encouraged by the interest of our international partners in helping on these kinds of efforts as well. We will continue air strikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq. We have increased the delivery of military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIL on the front lines.
And, perhaps most importantly, we are urging Iraqis to come together to turn the tide against ISIL –- above all, by seizing the enormous opportunity of forming a new, inclusive government under the leadership of Prime Minister-designate Abadi. I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister-designate Abadi a few days ago, and he spoke about the need for the kind of inclusive government — a government that speaks to all the people of Iraq — that is needed right now. He still has a challenging task in putting a government together, but we are modestly hopeful that the Iraqi government situation is moving in the right direction.
Now, second, I want to address something that’s been in the news over the last couple of days and that’s the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by the images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country, as police have clashed with people protesting. Today, I’d like us all to take a step back and think about how we’re going to be moving forward.
This morning, I received a thorough update on the situation from Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been following it and been in communication with his team. I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate the death of Michael Brown, along with local officials on the ground.
The Department of Justice is also consulting with local authorities about ways that they can maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation. I made clear to the Attorney General that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened, and to see that justice is done.
I also just spoke with Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri. I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened, and to find a way to come together going forward. He is going to be traveling to Ferguson. He is a good man and a fine governor, and I’m confident that, working together, he is going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way.
Of course, it’s important to remember how this started. We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. He was 18 years old. His family will never hold Michael in their arms again. And when something like this happens, the local authorities –- including the police -– have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death, and how they are protecting the people in their communities.
There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights. And here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground. Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority.
I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of our democracy. But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law; a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest; a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us; and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.
So now is the time for healing. Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson. Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done. And I’ve asked that the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney on the scene continue to work with local officials to move that process forward. They will be reporting to me in the coming days about what’s being done to make sure that happens.
Thanks very much, everybody.
12:58 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 14, 2014
Full Text Obama Presidency July 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks in a Town Hall with the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
Remarks by the President in Town Hall with the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders
Source: WH, 7-28-14
Omni Shoreham Hotel
11:10 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! (Applause.) Hello, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Everybody, please have a seat. Have a seat. We’re just getting started here. Well, hello, everybody. (Applause.) Welcome to Washington. I know most of you are visiting our country for the first time. So on behalf of the American people, welcome to the United States of America. (Applause.) We are thrilled to have you here. And to everybody who’s watching online across Africa, or at watch parties, or following through social media — you are a part of this, too, and we’re very glad that you’re with us.
And can everybody please give Faith a big round of applause for the great introduction. (Applause.) I have to say Faith didn’t seem very intimidated by the — (applause) — she seemed not lacking in confidence. (Laughter.) And she’s doing great work in South Africa to empower young people and young entrepreneurs, especially women.
Now, I’m not here to give a big speech. The whole idea of a town hall is for me to be able to hear from you. But first, I want to speak briefly about why I believe so strongly in all of you being here today.
Next week, I’ll host a truly historic event — the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, where nearly 50 Presidents and Prime Ministers attend from just about all of your countries. It will be the largest gathering any American President has ever hosted with African heads of state and government. And the summit reflects a principle that has guided my approach to Africa ever since I became President — that the security and prosperity and justice that we seek in the world cannot be achieved without a strong and prosperous and self-reliant Africa.
And even as we deal with crises and challenges in other parts of the world that often dominate our headlines, even as we acknowledge the real hardships that so many Africans face every day, we have to make sure that we’re seizing the extraordinary potential of today’s Africa, which is the youngest and fastest-growing of the continents.
So next week’s summit will focus on how we can continue to build a new model of partnership between America and Africa — a partnership of equals that focuses on your capacity to expand opportunity and strengthen democracy and promote security and peace. But this can’t be achieved by government alone. It demands the active engagement of citizens, especially young people.
And so that’s why, four years ago, I launched the Young African Leaders Initiative to make sure that we’re tapping into the incredible talent and creativity of young Africans like you. (Applause.) Since then, we’ve partnered with thousands of young people across the continent — empowering them with the skills and the training and technology they need to start new businesses, to spark change in their communities, to promote education and health care and good governance.
And last year in South Africa, at a town hall like this in Soweto — some of you were there -— I announced the next step, which was the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. The objective was to give young Africans the opportunity to come to the United States and develop their skills as the next generation of leaders in civil society and business and government.
And the response was overwhelming. Across the continent, young men and women set out on a journey. In remote villages with no phones and Internet, they navigated the back roads, and they traveled by bus and train to reach larger towns and cities
-— just to get an online application for the program. One young woman from rural Zimbabwe took a five-hour bus ride, then another six-hour bus ride, then another seven-hour bus ride — a two-day journey -— just to get her interview.
And ultimately, some 50,000 extraordinary young Africans applied. And today they’re at the heart of what we’re calling our YALI Network, the online community across Africa that’s sharing their ideas and forging new collaborations to realize the change that they seek. And I want everybody out there in the YALI Network to know that you’re the foundation of our partnership with Africa’s youth.
So today, we’re thrilled to welcome you, our Washington Fellows, to an exchange program unlike any other that America has ever had with Africa. And among your ranks is that young woman from Zimbabwe who endured all those bus rides. So we want to welcome Abbigal Muleya. (Applause.) Where’s Abbigal? Where’s Abbigal? Where is she? There’s Abbigal. (Applause.) That’s a lot of bus rides. (Laughter.)
Now, I do have a first item of business. As I said, I launched this fellowship in Soweto, not far from the original home of Nelson Mandela. And the spirit of this program reflects Madiba’s optimism, his idealism, his belief in what he called “the endless heroism of youth.” And so today, with the blessing of the Mandela family, to whom we’re so grateful, we are proud to announce that the new name of this program is the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. (Applause.) So you’re the first class of Mandela Washington Fellows. (Applause.)
Now, I know all of you have been busy — all of you have been busy at some of America’s top colleges and universities. You’ve been learning how to build a grassroots organization, and how to run a business, and how to manage an institution. As one of you said, “My brain has been bubbling with all sorts of ideas.” And I know you’ve also been developing your own ideas for meeting the challenges that we’ll address at next week’s summit. And I wanted you to know I’ve read some of the recommendations that were produced at each university and college, and I thought they were outstanding pieces of work. And that’s what I want you to hear today -— your ideas, your vision for Africa.
Here at this summit, you’re going to engage with some of our nation’s leading voices, including someone who I know you can’t wait to see, which is Michelle Obama, because — (applause.) But many members of Congress, who are strong supporters of this program, are also here. Where are the members of Congress? I know that we’ve got a few. There you are. (Applause.) So some outstanding members of Congress are here. You’ll get a chance to meet some of them. And I know some of you are headed off to internships in some of our nation’s leading companies and organizations. One of you said, “I will take what I’ve learned here and put it into practice back home.” And that’s the whole idea.
And I want to say, by the way — I took some pictures with some of the university officials who had hosted all of you, and uniformly they said they could not have been more impressed with all of you, and what a great job you did in engaging and taking advantage of the program. So, thank you. (Applause.)
I know you’ve also been experiencing America as well, the places that make us who we are, including my hometown of Chicago. (Applause.) You’ve experienced some of our traditions, like a block party. (Laughter.) You’ve experienced some of our food — Faith said she ate a lot of Texas barbeque when she was in Austin.
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Wooo!
THE PRESIDENT: You really liked that barbeque, huh? (Laughter.) So you got the whole Longhorn thing going on and all that? (Laughter.)
And Americans have been learning from you as well, because every interaction is a chance for Americans to see the Africa that so often is overlooked in the media — the Africa that is innovative and growing and dynamic. And a new generation, all of you, on Facebook and Twitter, and creating new ways to connect — like Yookos and MXit. I see some of you tweeting this town hall — (laughter) — although mostly I see these guys shifting into the seat over and over again so everybody can get a picture. (Laughter.) Don’t think I didn’t notice. (Laughter.) You all just — you need to stay in your chairs. (Laughter.) Everybody thinks they’re slick. (Applause.)
So the point is, our young leaders — our Young African Leaders initiative is a long-term investment in all of you and in Africa and the future that we can build together. And today, I want to announce some next steps that I think are important.
First, given the extraordinary demand for this fellows program, we’re going to double it so that in two years, we’ll welcome a thousand Mandela Washington fellows to the United States every year. (Applause.) So that’s good news.
Second, we’ll do even more to support young entrepreneurs with new grants to help you start a business or a nonprofit, and training thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs in smaller towns and rural areas. And given the success for our annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, I can announce that next year’s summit will be hosted for the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa, which I think is going to be terrific. (Applause.)
Third, we’re launching a whole new set of tools to empower young African through our YALI network — new online courses and mentoring, new ways to meet up and network across Africa and around the world, new training sessions and meetings with experts on how to launch startups. And it all begins today. And to get started, all you have to do is to go to Yali.state.gov — Yali.state.gov — and that will give you information about how you can access all these resources going forward.
And finally, we’re creating new regional leadership centers across Africa. So we’re joining with American universities, African institutions, and private sector partners like Microsoft and MasterCard Foundation — we want to thank the two of them; they’re really helping to finance this. So give Microsoft and MasterCard Foundation a round of applause. (Applause.) Starting next year, young Africans can come to these centers to network and access the latest technology, and get training in management and entrepreneurship. And we’re starting in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya. (Applause.) And we aim to help tens of thousands of young Africans access the skills and resources they need to put their ideas into action.
So the point of all of this is we believe in you. I believe in you. I believe in every one of you who are doing just extraordinary things — like Adepeuju Jaiyeoba. (Applause.) In Nigeria — there’s Adepeuju. In Nigeria, she saw a close friend die during childbirth. She now helps train birth attendants, and delivers kits with sterile supplies, and helping to save the lives of countless mothers and their babies. So we want to thank Adepeuju. (Applause.) We want her to save even more lives.
Or, to give you another example, Robert Nkwangu from Uganda. (Applause.) There’s Robert. So Robert is deaf, but even though he can’t hear, he can see that the stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities must end. (Applause.) He’s been their champion. He’s standing up for the rights in schools and on the job. (Applause.) So thank you, Robert. We want to be your partner in standing up for the universal rights of all people.
I believe in Mame Bousso Ndiaye. (Applause.) So in Senegal, she’s taking a stand against the human trafficking that condemns too many women and girls to forced labor and sexual slavery. She runs an academy that gives them education and skills to find a job and start new lives. And so, we are so proud of you. Thank you for the good work that you’re doing. (Applause.) We want to help you help these young women and girls to the kind of future of dignity that we want for every woman all across the continent and all around the world.
And I believe in Hastings Mkandawire. Where’s Hastings? (Applause.) In rural Malawi, he saw towns in darkness, without electricity. So now he gathers scrap metal, builds generators on his porch, takes them down to the stream for power, delivers electricity so farmers can irrigate their crops and children can study at night. Hastings, thank you. (Applause.) We want to help you power Africa. (Applause.)
And everybody here has a story, and we believe in all of you. We see what’s possible. And we see the vision that all of you have — not because of what you’ve seen here in America, but because what you’ve already done back home, what you see in each other and what you see in yourself.
Sobel Ngom, from Senegal. (Applause.) Sobel has a wonderful quote. He has a wonderful quote. He said, “Here, I have met Africa, the [Africa] I have always believed in. She’s beautiful. She’s young. She’s full of talent and motivation and ambition.” And that’s a good description. (Applause.) And being here with all of you, and learning together and working together and dreaming together has only strengthened his determination, he says, to realize “my aspirations for my country and my continent.”
So to Sobel and to all of you, and to everyone across Africa who joins our Young Leaders Initiative, I want to thank you for inspiring us with your talent and your motivation and your ambition. You’ve got great aspirations for your countries and your continent. And as you build that brighter future that you imagine, I want to make sure that the United States of America is going to be your friend and partner every step of the way.
So thank you very much, everybody. Let’s get a few questions and comments in this town hall. (Applause.)
So, okay, I know this is kind of a rowdy crowd. (Laughter.) First of all, I want everybody to sit down. Sit down. Now, I’m not going to be able to call on everybody, so just a couple of rules. Number one, don’t start standing up and waving or shouting. Just raise your hand and I will try to select from the audience, and I’ll try to take as many questions as possible. So let’s keep the questions — or comments relatively brief, and I will try to give a brief answer — although if you ask me what are we going to do about ending war, then that may require a longer answer. So we’ll see how it goes. So that’s rule number one.
Rule number two, we should have microphones in the audience, and so wait — when I call on you, wait until the microphone comes. The attendant will hold it in front of you. You can answer. Please introduce yourself, tell us what country you’re from, and ask your question or make your remark. Number two, just to make sure it’s fair, we’re going to go boy, girl, boy, girl. (Laughter.) In fact, you know what — in fact, we’re going to go girl, boy, girl, boy. (Laughter.) That’s what we’re going to do. Because one of the things we want to teach about Africa is how strong the women are and how we’ve got to empower women. (Applause.)
All right? So let’s see who we’re going to call on first. This young lady right here. Right here. So wait until the mic is there. Here, there’s somebody right behind you who’s got the microphone. Introduce yourself and — welcome.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I’m from South Africa. And my question is, previously Nelson Mandela had inspired the foundation of the South Africa Fund for Enterprises. It has run for two decades, and it has since been stopped. Is there any chance to develop another fund for enterprises in Africa?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it’s a great question. One of the things that’s been interesting in not only some of the platforms that you developed at your universities, but also during my trips to Africa is the degree to which young Africans are less interested in aid and more interested in how can they create opportunity through business and entrepreneurship and trade. Not to say that we do not need to deal with very serious challenges in terms of poverty. We need to make sure that we are continuing to work on behalf of the least of these. But what I think everybody recognizes is that if you want sustained development and sustained opportunity and sustained self-determination, then the key is to own what is produced, and to be able to create jobs and opportunity organically and indigenously, and then be able to meet the world on equal terms.
So part of the challenge in entrepreneurship is financing. And for so many individuals across the continent, it’s just very difficult to get that initial startup money. And the truth is, is that in many communities around Africa it’s not that you need so much, but you need something, that little seed capital.
And so what we’d like to do is to work with programs that are already existing, to find out where are the gaps in terms of financing, and then to make sure that we are utilizing the resources that we have in the most intelligent way possible to target young entrepreneurs to create small- and medium-sized businesses all across the continent that hopefully grow into large businesses. And if we’re supplementing that kind of financing with the training and networking that may be available through YALI, then we could see the blossoming of all kinds of entrepreneurial activities all across the continent that eventually grow into larger businesses.
And so we are very interested in this. This will be a primary focus of the summit that we have with the African leaders next week — how do we make sure that financing is available, and, by the way, how do we make sure that the financing does not just go to those who are already at the top; how do we make sure that it filters down. You shouldn’t have to be the son of somebody or the daughter of somebody — (applause) — you should be able to get — if you’ve got a good idea, you should be able to test that idea and be judged on your own merits.
And that’s where I think we can help bypass what oftentimes is in, sadly, too many countries a system in which you have to know somebody in order to be able to finance your ideas.
One thing I do want to say, though — keep in mind, even in the United States, if you’re starting a business, it’s always hard getting financing. So there are a lot of U.S. entrepreneurs and small business people, when they’re starting off, they’re borrowing from their brothers and their sisters, and begging and scratching and taking credit cards and they’re running up debt. Inherently, there is risk involved. And so I don’t want to give you anybody the illusion who is out there starting a business or wanting to launch a business that it’s going to be easy. It will not be.
But there are ways where we can make a difference. And oftentimes, particularly in rural areas of Africa, you don’t need a lot of capital to get started, right? So you may be able — if you buy one piece of equipment that can increase yields for a whole bunch of farmers in that community, and then the additional profits that they make now allows you to buy two pieces of equipment, and then four, and then eight, you can grow fairly rapidly because the baseline of capital in that community may be relatively low. So you don’t necessarily have huge barriers of entry. You just have to make sure that you have that initial capital.
But of course, in communities like that, even a small amount of capital can be hard to come by. And that’s why making sure that this is a top priority of our efforts is something that we’ll really emphasize. Okay?
All right, let’s see — it’s a gentleman’s turn. I’m going to call on this guy just because he’s so tall. (Laughter.) I always like — I like height. (Laughter.) There you go. All right, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I’m from Senegal. President Obama is the first President of the United States of Africa. (Applause.) I would like to know can you share the two important issues you will discuss as the first President of the United Nation of Africa?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m sorry, I’m the first African American President of the United States. I wasn’t sure of — heads of state? What are the top two issues that I’m going to be discussing when we’re in the summit tomorrow?
Q If Africa becomes the United States of Africa —
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I see.
Q — and you get the chance to meet the first president.
THE PRESIDENT: I see, okay. All right, so this is sort of like a — it’s kind of an intellectual exercise. If I were to discuss — no, no, now I understand your question.
Q It’s clear?
THE PRESIDENT: It’s an interesting question. The idea is if somehow Africa unified into a United States of Africa, what would be something that I would say to him or her —
Q Yes. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think the thing that I would emphasize first and foremost is the issue of governance. Now, sometimes this is an issue that raises some sensitivities because I think people feel like who’s the United States to tell us how to govern. We have different systems. We have different traditions. What may work for the United States may not work for us. Oh, and by the way, the United States, we don’t see that Congress is always cooperating so well and your system is not perfect.
I understand all that. So let’s acknowledge all that. What I will say is this, that regardless of the resources a country possesses, regardless of how talented the people are, if you do not have a basic system of rule of law, of respect for civil rights and human rights, if you do not give people a credible, legitimate way to work through the political process to express their aspirations, if you don’t respect basic freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, if there are not laws in place in which everybody is equal under the law so that there’s not one set of rules for the well-connected and another set of rules for ordinary people, if you do not have an economic system that is transparent and accountable so that people trust that if they work hard they will be rewarded for their work and corruption is rooted out — if you don’t have those basic mechanisms, it is very rare for a country to succeed.
I will go further than that: That country will not succeed over the long term. It may succeed over the short term because it may have natural resources that it can extract, and it can generate enough money to then distribute and create patronage networks. But over time, that country will decline.
And if you look at examples around the world, you’ll have a country like Singapore which has nothing — it’s a small, tiny, city-state with not a lot of — it has no real natural resources, and yet it’s taken off. And you have other countries, which I won’t mention — (laughter) — that have incredible resources, but because there’s not a basic system of rule of law that people have confidence in, it never takes off and businesses never take root.
And so what I would emphasize is governance as a starting point. It’s not alone sufficient. You then also have to have over time infrastructure. And you also have to have an education system that’s in place. And there are all kinds of other elements that are necessary. But if you don’t have the basic premise that ordinary citizens can succeed based on their individual efforts, that they don’t have to pay a bribe in order to start a business or even get a telephone, that they won’t be shaken down when they’re driving down the street because the police officers aren’t getting paid enough, and this is the accepted way to supplement their income — if you don’t have those things in place, then over time there’s no trust in the society. People don’t have confidence that things are working the way that they should. And so then everybody starts trying to figure out, okay, what’s my angle? How am I going to get my thing? And it creates a culture in which you can’t really take off.
Look, you’re never going to eliminate 100 percent of corruption. Here in the United States, occasionally we have to throw people in jail for taking money for contracts or having done favors for politicians. All that’s true. But the difference here in the United States — and it’s true in many of the more developed, industrialized countries — is that’s more the aberration rather than the norm.
I mean, the truth is here in the United States, if you want to start a business, you go ahead and you file papers, you can incorporate. You might have to pay a fee of $50 or $100 or whatever it ends up being, and that’s it. You’ve got your business. Now, the business might not be making any money at that point, you still got to do a whole bunch of stuff to succeed — but the point is, is that basically rule of law is observed. That’s the norm. That’s what happens 95 percent of the time.
And that’s I think where you have to start. And that’s where young people I think have to have high expectations for their leadership. And don’t be fooled by this notion that, well, we have a different way, an African way. Well, no. (Laughter.) The African way is not that you suddenly have a — you’ve been in office and then, suddenly, you have a Swiss bank account of $2 billion. That’s not the African way. (Applause.)
And part of rule of law, by the way, is also that leaders eventually give up power over time. It doesn’t have to be the same way all the time. But if you have entrenched leadership forever, then what happens over time is it just — you don’t get new ideas and new blood. And it is inevitable I think sometimes that rule of law becomes less and less observed because people start being more concerned, about keeping their positions than doing the right thing.
Okay, great question, even though it took me a while to understand it. (Laughter.)
So it’s a young lady’s turn. Let me make sure that I’m not restricting myself to — how about that young lady right there. Yes, you. (Laughter.) Hold on a second, the microphone is coming.
Q Good morning, Mr. President. I’m from Botswana. I just wanted to find out how committed is the U.S. to assisting Africa in closing gender inequalities, which are contributing to gender-based violence, which it threatens the achievement of many Millennium Development goals, such as access to universal education, eradicating HIV and AIDS.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, listen, you will not find anybody more committed than I am to this issue, and let me tell you why.
First of all, I was mentioning earlier, if you look comparatively at countries around the world, what societies succeed, which ones don’t, one of the single-best measures of whether a country succeeds or not is how it treats its women. (Applause.) And if you think about it, it makes sense, because, first of all, women are half your population. So if you have a team — we just finished the World Cup, right — if you have a soccer team — what you all call a football team — and you go out and the other side has a full team and you send out half your team, how are you going to do? You will not do as well.
If you are not empowering half of your population that means you have half as few possible scientists, half as few possible engineers. You are crippling your own development unnecessarily. So that’s point number one.
Point number two is if you educate and empower and respect a mother, then you are educating the children, right? So with a man, you educate him, yeah, it’s okay. (Laughter.) A woman, you educate her, and suddenly you’ve got an entire village, an entire region, an entire country suddenly is becoming educated.
So this is an absolute priority for us. And we’ll be discussing this with the heads of state and government that we see next week. And we’ve seen some progress on some fronts, but this is where sometimes traditions can get in the way.
And as many of you know, my father was from Kenya, and — (applause) — that’s the Kenyan contingent. (Laughter.) But I think what applies to Kenya is true and applies to many of the countries in Africa — and this is not unique to Africa, we see this in other parts of the world — some of the old ways of gender relations might have made sense in a particular setting. So in Kenya, for example, in the Luo tribe, polygamy existed. It was based on the idea that women had their own compounds, they had their own land, and so they were empowered in that area to be self-sufficient. And then urbanization happened; suddenly the men may be traveling to the city and suddenly there is another family in the city and the women who were left back in the villages may not be empowered in the same way. So what worked then might not work today — in fact, does not work today. And if you seek to — if you try to duplicate traditions that were based on an entirely different economy and an entirely different society and entirely different expectations, well, that’s going to break down. It’s not going to work.
So as a continent, you have to update and create new traditions. And that’s where young people come in. You don’t have to accept what’s the old ways of doing things. You can respect the past and respect traditions while while recognizing they have to be adapted to a new age.
Now, I have to say there are some traditions that just have to be gotten rid of and there’s no excuse for them. Female genital mutilation — I’m sorry, I don’t consider that a tradition worth hanging on to. (Applause.) I think that’s a tradition that is barbaric and should be eliminated. Violence towards women — I don’t care for that tradition. I’m not interested in it. It needs to be eliminated. (Applause.)
So part of the task is to find what traditions are worth hanging on to and what traditions you got to get rid of. I mean, there was a tradition in medicine that if you were sick, they would bleed you. That’s a bad tradition. And we discovered, let’s try other things — like medicine. (Laughter.) So we don’t have to cling on to things that just don’t work. And subjugating women does not work, and the society will fail as a consequence. (Applause.)
So everything we do, every program that we have — any education program that we have, any health program that we have, any small business or economic development program that we have, we will write into it a gender equality component to it. This is not just going to be some side note. This will be part of everything that we do.
And the last point I’m going to make — in order for this to be successful, all the men here have to be just as committed to empowering women as the women are. (Applause.) That’s important. So don’t think that this is just a job for women, to worry about women’s issues. The men have to worry about it. And if you’re a strong man, you should not feel threatened by strong women. (Applause.)
All right. So we’ve got gentleman’s turn. This gentleman in this bright tie right here. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Your Excellency. I’m coming from Kenya.
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, habari?
Q Mzuri sana. (Applause.) Asante sana (Swahili) opportunity.
Africa is losing her people to starvation and diseases, which are otherwise curable. And this is largely because our governments are establishing very huge debts to the G8 countries. As a global leader in the family of nations, when will the U.S. lead the other G8 countries in forgiving Africa these debts so that our governments can be in a position to deliver and provide essential services, like social, health care, and the infrastructural development services to our people? (Applause.) Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, let me make a couple of points on this. First of all, I think it’s important to recognize on issues of health the significant progress that has been made — because I think sometimes we are so properly focused on the challenges that we forget to remind ourselves how far we’ve come. And when you know how far you’ve come, it gives you confidence about how much further you can go.
So over the last 20 years, HIV occurrence has been cut in half in Africa — half. Tuberculosis and malaria deaths have been reduced by 40 percent and 30 percent respectively; 50 percent fewer women die giving birth; 50 million children’s lives have been spared. And most importantly, now what we’re doing is not just providing assistance through programs like PEPFAR, but we’re also empowering governments themselves to begin to set up public health infrastructure and networks, and training nurses and clinicians and specialists so that it becomes self-sufficient. So we’re making progress.
Now, I think there is a legitimate discussion to be had around debt forgiveness. And in meetings with what now is the G7, I just want to let you know — (laughter) — but that’s a whole other topic that — (laughter) — we don’t want to get too far afield — I think there’s genuine openness to how can we help make sure that countries are not saddled with debts that may have been squandered by past leaders, but now hamstrung countries — are making countries unable to get out from under the yoke of those debts.
The only thing I will do, though, is I will challenge the notion that the primary reason that there’s been a failure of service delivery is because of onerous debt imposed by the West. Let me say something that may be somewhat controversial. And I’m older than all of you — that I know. (Laughter.) By definition, if you’re my age you’re not supposed to be in this program. (Laughter.) You lied about your age. (Laughter.) When I was a college student, issues of dependency and terms of trade and the legacy of colonialism, those were all topics of great, fervent discussion. And there is no doubt that, dating back to the colonial era, you can trace many of the problems that have plagued the continent — whether it’s how lines were drawn without regard to natural boundaries and tribal and ethnic relationships; whether you look at all the resources that were extracted and the wealth that was extracted without any real return to the nature of trade as it developed in the ‘60s and the ‘70s, so that value was never actually produced in country, but was sent somewhere else. There are all kinds of legitimate arguments you can look at in terms of history that impeded African development.
But at some point, we have to stop looking somewhere else for solutions, and you have to start looking for solutions, internally. And as powerful as history is and you need to know that history, at some point, you have to look to the future and say, okay, we didn’t get a good deal then, but let’s make sure that we’re not making excuses for not going forward.
And the truth is, is that there’s not a single country in Africa — and by the way, this is true for the United States as well — that with the resources it had could not be doing better. So there are a lot of countries that are generating a lot of wealth. I’m not going to name any, but you can guess. This is a well-educated crowd. There are a lot of countries that are generating a lot of income, have a lot of natural resources, but aren’t putting that money back into villages to educate children. There are a lot of countries where the leaders have a lot of resources, but the money is not going back to provide health clinics for young mothers.
So, yes, I think it’s important for Western countries and advanced countries to look at past practices — if loans have been made to countries that weren’t put into productive enterprises by those leaders at that time, those leaders may be long gone but countries are still unable to dig themselves out from under those debts — can we strategically in pin-point fashion find ways to assist and provide some relief. That’s a legitimate discussion. But do not think that that is the main impediment at this point to why we have not seen greater progress in many countries, because there’s enough resources there in-country, even if debts are being serviced, to do better than we’re doing in many cases.
Okay, so it’s a young lady’s turn. I haven’t gotten anybody way back in the back there. So how about that young lady right there with the glasses.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Zu (ph).
THE PRESIDENT: Zu? (ph). I like that name.
Q Yes, from Madagascar.
THE PRESIDENT: From?
THE PRESIDENT: Madagascar.
Q It’s a great honor for me, Mr. President, to thank you on behalf of the Malagasy people to reintegrate Madagascar last month in the AGOA. And my question is, at it will end on 2015, we want to have your confirmation right here what will happen after 2015. We all know that the AGOA was a great way to decrease youth unemployment in our country, so what will happen after this, the end? Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: So AGOA, for those of you — I think everybody here is probably aware — this is one of the primary tools we have to promote trade between the United States and many African countries. It’s set to expire. There’s a negotiation process taking place as we speak. More progress will be made next week. I think that we’ve learned some lessons about what works and what doesn’t through the first stage of AGOA. In some cases, what we’ve discovered is, is that many countries can’t — even if they have no tariff barriers that they’re experiencing, they still have problems in terms of getting their goods to market. And so part of what we’re trying to do is to find ways in which we can lower some of the other barriers to export for African countries — not just the tariffs issue, but how can we make sure that there is greater transportation networks; how can we make sure that trade financing is in place; what are the other mechanisms that may inhibit exports from African countries. So that’s the first thing.
On a separate track, part of what we’re also trying to figure out is how can we promote inter-African trade. Because so often — and this does relate to a legacy of the past and colonialism — you have strong infrastructure to send flowers from Kenya to Paris, but it’s very hard to send tea from Kenya down to Tanzania — much closer, but the infrastructure is not built. And so part of what we have to do is to try to find ways to integrate Africa.
Much of that is a question of infrastructure. Some of it has to do with coordinating regulatory systems between countries. We’re embarking on some experiments starting in East Africa to see if we can get Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania — see, you guys know all of them. (Laughter.) We’re starting to work with these countries to see can we get some blocks of effective trading taking place.
Because, look, obviously there’s going to be a certain market for certain goods — I mentioned flowers from Kenya. The market — that’s primarily going to be in some of the wealthier countries. But there are going to be some goods that it’s going to be much easier to sell. If I’m a Kenyan businessman, it’s going to be easier for me to sell my goods to a Tanzanian or a Ugandan than it is for me to try to compete with Nike or Apple in the United States. Right?
And historically, when you look at how trade develops — if you look at Asia, for example, which obviously has grown extraordinarily fast — a huge volume of that trade is within the region first, and then over time that becomes a launching pad from which to trade globally.
So this is an area where I think we can also provide some assistance and help. But just to answer directly your question, we are very strongly committed to making sure that AGOA is reauthorized. And obviously, we’ve got a bunch of members of Congress here who care about this deeply, as well.
How much time do we have, by the way? I just want to make sure — he said, one hour. (Laughter.) Okay, I think we’ve got time for two more questions.
AUDIENCE: Awww —
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m sorry, but — (laughter.) So it’s a gentleman’s turn. Let me see — this gentleman in the white right here. That guy right there. Hold on one second, let’s get a microphone on him.
Q Hi, I’m from Liberia. It is a pleasure meeting you, Mr. President. My question has to do with the issue of antitrust law. You will be meeting our leaders next week. Will you discuss the issue of antitrust law that will protect young entrepreneurs in Africa? If not, are you willing to include it on your agenda, please, to solve our problems back home? Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, obviously, each country is different, and I’ll be honest with you, I’m not familiar with the antitrust laws in every country. But what I would certainly commit to do is to talk about antitrust in the broader context of what I said at the beginning after maybe the first question, and that is the issue of rule of law and how it interacts with the economy.
If you have monopolies or collusion between a few companies that create artificial barriers to new entrants, then economic theory will tell you that invariably that is inefficient. It means consumers are going to pay more for worse products. It means those companies can concentrate more and more wealth without actually improving what they produce. And over time, the economy stagnates.
And here in the United States we had a history of huge, big, corporations controlling huge sectors of the economy. And over time, we put in laws to break up those monopolies and to create laws to guard against artificial monopolies that prevented competition.
So antitrust is one element of a broader set of laws and principles that every country should be adopting with the basic notion that, look, if you’re successful — if you are a company like Apple that innovated, or a company like Microsoft that came up with a new concept — you should be able to get big and you should be able to be successful, and those who founded it, like Bill Gates, should be wealthy. But what you also want to make sure of is the next generation — the Googles or the Facebooks — that they can be successful, too, in that space. And that means that you have to make sure that those who got there first aren’t closing the door behind them, which all too often I think happens in many countries, not just in African countries.
So you make an excellent point, and we’ll make sure that that’s incorporated into the broader discussion.
Okay, this young lady right here. Yes, because she looks so nice. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you very much. I’m from Kenyan.
THE PRESIDENT: We got a Maasai sister right here. (Laughter.) That’s it. Go ahead.
Q Thank you for this great initiative for the young people, and thank you for believing in the young people.
The upcoming summit of the Presidents, I know you’re going to ask them on engagement of the young people back in our countries. And my concern will be, how will you be able to engage them to commit to their promises? Because I know they’re going to promise you that. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: All right, don’t get carried away here. (Laughter.) Well, look, part of what we’ve done here by building this YALI network that we’re going to be doubling over the next couple of years is we’re going directly to the young people and creating these networks and these opportunities. And what we’re already seeing, I think, is many countries are excited by this. They’re saying, you know what, this is something that can be an empowering tool for us, so let’s take advantage of it.
There are going to be some that may feel somewhat threatened by it — there’s no doubt about that. But the good thing is we will be creating this network — there are a whole bunch of people who are following this online, who are following it on social media. We’ll have these regional centers. You will help to make sure that some of these promises are observed, because the whole continent of young people is going to be paying attention, and we’ll be able to see which countries are really embracing this opportunity to get new young people involved, and which ones are ignoring its promise.
And so I will say to every one of these leaders, you need to take advantage of the most important resource you have, and that’s the amazing youth in these countries. (Applause.) But you’re going to have to also help to hold them accountable collectively across countries, and that’s part of why this network can be so important.
So I know this is sad, but I have to go.
AUDIENCE: Awww —
THE PRESIDENT: I have other work to do. (Laughter.) The good news is you’ve got all these really amazing people who are still going to be meeting with you and talking with you. And, most importantly, what an amazing opportunity it is for all of you to get to know each other, and to talk and to compare ideas and share concepts going forward.
The main message I want to leave you with is that, in the same way I’m inspired by you, you should be inspired by each other; that Africa has enormous challenges — the world has enormous challenges, but I tell the young people that intern in the White House — and I usually meet with them at the end of their internship after six months — I always tell them, despite all the bad news that you read about or you see on television, despite all the terrible things that happen in places around the world, if you had to choose a time in world history in which to be born, and you didn’t know who you were or what your status or position would be, you’d choose today. Because for all the difficulties, the world has made progress and Africa is making progress. And it’s growing. And there are fewer conflicts and there’s less war. And there’s more opportunity, and there’s greater democracy, and there’s greater observance of human rights.
And progress sometimes can be slow, and it can be frustrating. And sometimes, you take two steps forward, and then you take one step back. But the great thing about being young is you are not bound by the past, and you can shape the future. And if all of you work hard and work together, and remain confident in your possibilities, and aren’t deterred when you suffer a setback, but you get back up, and you dust yourself off, and you go back at it, I have no doubt that you’re going to leave behind for the next generation and the generation after that an Africa that is strong and vibrant and prosperous, and is ascendant on the world stage.
So I can’t wait to see what all of you do. Good luck. (Applause.)
12:14 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on July 28, 2014
Full Text Obama Presidency April 11, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Voting Rights Being Threatened at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
Remarks by the President at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention
Source: WH, 4-11-14
Sheraton New York Hotel
New York, New York
4:02 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, New York! (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. It is good to be at the National Action Network! (Applause.) It is good to be here with some good friends.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. (Applause.)
It is wonderful to be with all of you. I want to say, first of all, thank you to your leader, Reverend Al Sharpton. Give him a big round of applause. (Applause.) And I appreciate the idea of being an “action” President, although I do also have style — (laughter) — I just want to point that out. I know it’s not about it, but I just — but I do have it. (Laughter.) Al is not the only guy with style.
We’ve got Barbara Arnwine here today, and we want to thank her. Clayola Brown, thank you. Melanie Campbell, thank you. Marc Morial, thank you. We’ve got members of Congress, state and local officials from New York. And of course, we’ve got all of you. So thanks to all of you for such a wonderful welcome. (Applause.)
Everybody, sit down. Sit down. Al doesn’t know how to get back to his seat. (Laughter.) Somebody help out the leader here. But don’t make him jump over it. Okay, they’re going to explain it. There we go. All right. You’re going to be all right.
Now, the last time I was here was three years ago, and a few things have changed since then. I am here as a second term President. (Applause.) I have more gray hair. (Laughter.) It’s all right. Let’s see, what else — I’ve got twice as many dogs. I’m glad I won’t have to serve a third term — because three dogs is too many. I can’t keep on promising Malia and Sasha another dog.
Of course one thing that has not changed is your commitment to the cause of civil rights for everybody and opportunity for all people. And that’s been something that’s been on my mind this week. Some of you may know that yesterday I was down in Austin, Texas at the LBJ Library to speak on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the man who signed it into law. (Applause.) And standing there, I thought of all the Americans, known and unknown, who made it possible for me to stand in that spot — who marched and organized, and sat in, and stood up for jobs and for justice. I thought of all who achieved that great victory and others — not just with respect to the Civil Rights Act, but the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, and immigration reform, and Medicare and Medicaid, and the first battles of a long War on Poverty.
And over the past five years, in the wake of the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, we’ve won some victories, too. Nearly 9 million new jobs at America’s businesses over the past four years. (Applause.) Seven and a half million Americans signing up to buy health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. (Applause.) And millions more who have gained coverage through Medicaid and CHIP, and young people being able to stay on their parents’ plans. The rate of uninsured Americans is down. High school dropout rates are down. Our high school graduation rate is the highest on record. More young people are earning college degrees than ever before. (Applause.) We’ve made progress and we’ve taken action.
But we also know our work is unfinished. Too many Americans working harder than ever just to get by. Too many Americans who aren’t working at all. We know we have to do more to restore America’s promise of opportunity for all people, particularly for communities hardest hit by the recession; particularly for those who struggled since long before the recession — not only African Americans and Latinos, but Americans trapped across the country in pockets of poverty — inner city, suburban, rural.
And we know what opportunity means. Opportunity means more good jobs that pay good wages. Opportunity means training folks for those jobs.
Opportunity means changing the odds for all of our children through Pre-K, something Mayor de Blasio is fighting for here in New York City. (Applause.) And opportunity means affordable higher education for all who are willing to work for it.
Opportunity means answering the call to be My Brother’s Keeper and helping more boys and young men of color stay on track and reach their full potential. (Applause.)
Before I came out, I was in a photo line, saw my good friend, Freddie Haynes, a great pastor from the great state of Texas. And he told me this summer they’re going to hire 100 young men, pay them $10.10 an hour — maybe $10.50 — (applause) — as a consequence of this call. And the point is, is that My Brother’s Keeper, that’s not just something I do, that’s not just something the government does. That’s something everybody can participate in, because we know these young men need support.
Opportunity means making the minimum wage a wage you can live on. It means equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) It means overtime pay for workers who have earned it. It means continuing to extend the right of quality, affordable health care for every American in every state, because we’ve got some states that aren’t doing the right thing. We have states who just out of political spite are leaving millions of people uninsured that could be getting health insurance right now. No good reason for it. If you ask them what’s the explanation they can’t really tell you.
And, by the way, making sure our citizens have the opportunity to lead healthy lives also means dealing with things like the dangerous carbon pollution that’s disproportionately affecting low-income communities. It means making sure that our young people are eating right, so listen to Michelle. (Laughter.) I’m just saying.
So we know we’ve got more work to do to bridge the gap between our founding ideals and the realities of our time. And the question then becomes, well, how do we actually make these changes? How does it happen? How do we get a minimum wage bill passed? How do we make sure that those states that aren’t yet implementing the Affordable Care Act actually are doing right by their citizens? It means being vigilant. We’ve got to be vigilant to secure the gains we’ve made, but also to make more gains in the future.
And that’s the meaning of these last 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed. Because across the country right now there are well-organized and well-funded efforts to undo these gains. And one of those gains is under particular assault right now, and that’s what I want to spend the rest of my time here talking about.
Just as inequality feeds on injustice, opportunity requires justice. And justice requires the right to vote. (Applause.) President Johnson, right after he signed the Civil Rights Act into law, told his advisors — some of whom were telling him, well, all right, just wait. You’ve done a big thing now; let’s let the dust settle, don’t stir folks up. He said, no, no, I can’t wait. We’ve got to press forward and pass the Voting Rights Act. Johnson said, “About this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.” (Applause.)
Voting is a time when we all have an equal say -— black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. It doesn’t matter. In the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our democracy, we’re all supposed to have that equal right to cast our ballot to help determine the direction of our society.
The principle of one person, one vote is the single greatest tool we have to redress an unjust status quo. You would think there would not be an argument about this anymore. But the stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago.
Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote. In some places, women could be turned away from the polls just because they’re registered under their maiden name but their driver’s license has their married name. Senior citizens who have been voting for decades may suddenly be told they can no longer vote until they can come up with the right ID.
In other places, folks may learn that without a document like a passport or a birth certificate, they can’t register. About 60 percent of Americans don’t have a passport. Just because you don’t have the money to travel abroad doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to vote here at home. (Applause.) And just to be clear, I know where my birth certificate is, but a lot of people don’t. (Laughter.) A lot of people don’t. (Applause.) I think it’s still up on a website somewhere. (Laughter.) You remember that? That was crazy. That was some crazy stuff. (Laughter and applause.) I hadn’t thought about that in a while. (Laughter.)
Now, I want to be clear — I am not against reasonable attempts to secure the ballot. We understand that there has to be rules in place. But I am against requiring an ID that millions of Americans don’t have. That shouldn’t suddenly prevent you from exercising your right to vote. (Applause.)
The first words put to paper in our American story tell us that all of us are created equal. And we understand that it took a long time to make sure that those words meant something. But 50 years ago, we put laws in place, because of enormous struggles, to vindicate that idea; to make our democracy truly mean something. And that makes it wrong to pass laws that make it harder for any eligible citizen to vote, especially because every citizen doesn’t just have the right to vote, they have a responsibility to vote. (Applause.)
So, yes, we’re right to be on guard against voter fraud. Voter fraud would impinge on our democracy, as well. We don’t want folks voting that shouldn’t be voting. We all agree on that. Let’s stipulate to that, as the lawyers say.
But there’s a reason why those who argue that harsh restrictions on voting are somehow necessary to fight voter fraud are having such a hard time proving any real, widespread fraud. So I just want to give you some statistics. One recent study found only 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation in 12 years — 10 cases. Another analysis found that out of 197 million votes cast for federal elections between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters — out of 197 million — were indicted for fraud. Now, for those of you who are math majors, as a percentage, that is 0.00002 percent. (Laughter.) That’s not a lot. So let’s be clear — the real voter fraud is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud. (Applause.)
And I have to say, there have been — some of these officials who have been passing these laws have been more blunt. They said, this is going to be good for the Republican Party. Some of them have not been shy about saying that they’re doing this for partisan reasons.
“It is wrong,” President Johnson said, “deadly wrong, to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.” It is wrong to change our election rules just because of politics. It is wrong to make citizens wait for five, six, seven hours just to vote. It is wrong to make a senior citizen who no longer has a driver’s license jump through hoops and have to pay money just to exercise the rights she has cherished for a lifetime. America did not stand up and did not march and did not sacrifice to gain the right to vote for themselves and for others only to see it denied to their kids and their grandchildren. We’ve got to pay attention to this. (Applause.)
Some of the folks from Chicago know — Crider (ph) knows — one of the first jobs I had out of law school was to lead a voter registration drive in my home state of Illinois. We registered more than 150,000 new voters. And as an organizer, I got to help other citizens exercise their most cherished and fundamental rights. That mattered to me.
And as President, I’m not going to let attacks on these rights go unchallenged. We’re not going to let voter suppression go unchallenged. (Applause.) So earlier this week, you heard from the Attorney General — and there’s a reason the agency he runs is called the Department of Justice. (Applause.) They’ve taken on more than 100 voting rights cases since 2009, and they’ve defended the rights of everybody from African Americans to Spanish speakers to soldiers serving overseas. (Applause.)
Earlier this year, a bipartisan commission I appointed chaired by my election lawyer and Mitt Romney’s election lawyer came up with a series of modern — or common-sense reforms to modernize voter registration, and to curb the potential for fraud in smart way, and ensure that no one has to wait for more than half an hour to cast a ballot. States and local election boards should take up those recommendations. And with the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer almost upon us, I urge members of Congress to honor those who gave their lives so that others could exercise their rights, and update the Voting Rights Act. Go ahead and get that done. (Applause.)
Do it because the right to vote is something cherished by every American. We should not be having an argument about this. There are a lot of things we can argue about, but the right to vote? I mean, what kind of political platform is that? (Laughter.) Why would you make that a part of your agenda, preventing people from voting? How can you defend that? There are a whole bunch of folks out there who don’t vote for me; didn’t vote for me, don’t like what I do. The idea that I would prevent them from voting and exercising their franchise makes no sense.
Black or white, man or woman, urban, rural, rich, poor, Native American, disabled, gay, straight, Republican or Democrat — voters who want to vote should be able to vote. Period. Full stop. (Applause.) Voting is not a Democratic issue, it’s not a Republican issue. It’s an issue of citizenship. (Applause.) It’s what makes our democracy strong.
But it’s a fact this recent effort to restrict the vote has not been led by both parties — it’s been led by the Republican Party. And in fairness, it’s not just Democrats who are concerned. You had one Republican state legislator point out — and I’m quoting here — “Making it more difficult for people to vote is not a good sign for a party that wants to attract more people.” (Laughter.) That was a pretty — that’s a good insight. (Laughter.) Right? I want a competitive Republican Party, just like a competitive Democratic Party. That’s how our democracy is supposed to work — the competition of ideas. But I don’t want folks changing the rules to try to restrict people’s access to the ballot.
And I think responsible people, regardless of your party affiliation, should agree with that. If your strategy depends on having fewer people show up to vote, that’s not a sign of strength, that’s a sign of weakness. (Applause.)
And not only is it ultimately bad politics. I believe ultimately it harms the entire country. If voting is denied to the many, we risk ending up stuck year after year with special interest policies that benefit a fortunate few. And injustice perpetuates inequality.
But remember, just as injustice perpetuates inequality, justice opens up opportunity. And as infuriating as efforts to roll back hard-earned rights can be, the trajectory of our history has to give us hope. The story of America is a story of progress. No matter how often or how intensely that progress has been challenged, ultimately this nation has moved forward. As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, [but] it bends towards justice.” We move forward on civil rights and we move forward on workers’ rights, and we move forward on women’s rights and disability rights and gay rights. We show that when ordinary citizens come together to participate in this democracy we love, justice will not be denied. (Applause.) So the single most important thing we can do to protect our right to vote is to vote. (Applause.)
So I’m going to make one last point here. We’re going to have an attorney general that looks at all the laws that are being passed. We’re going to have civic organizations that are making sure that state laws and local laws are doing what they’re supposed to do. We will fight back whenever we see unfairly the franchise being challenged. But the truth is that for all these laws that are being put in place, the biggest problem we have is people giving up their own power — voluntarily not participating.
The number of people who voluntarily don’t vote, who are eligible to vote, dwarfs whatever these laws are put in place might do in terms of diminishing the voting roles.
So we can’t treat these new barriers as an excuse not to participate. We can’t use cynicism as an excuse not to participate. Sometimes I hear people saying, well, we haven’t gotten everything we need — we still have poverty, we still have problems. Of course. These things didn’t happen overnight.
When I was down in Texas, everybody was celebrating the day that the Civil Rights Law was finally passed. Remember there were decades in which people sacrificed and worked hard. (Applause.) Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens as long as we don’t purposely give our power away. Every obstacle put in our path should remind us of the power we hold in our hands each time we pull that lever or fill in that oval or touch that screen. We just have to harness that power. We’ve got to create a national network committed to taking action. We can call it the National Action Network. (Applause.)
So I want you to go out there and redouble your efforts. Register more voters. Help more folks to get their rights. Get those souls to the polls. If they won’t let you do it on Sunday, then do it on a Tuesday instead. (Applause.) I know it’s better going to the polls on Sunday because you go to church, you get a little meal. (Laughter.) You got the bus waiting for you. I understand. But you can do it without that if we have to.
We’re at a time when we’re marking many anniversaries. And it’s interesting for me — I’ve been on this Earth 52 years, and so to see the progress we’ve made is to see my own life and the progression that’s happened. You think about Brown v. Board of Education, and the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and Freedom Summer. And with those anniversaries, we have new reason to remember those who made it possible for us to be here. Like the three civil rights workers in Mississippi — two white, one black — who were murdered 50 years ago as they tried to help their fellow citizens register to vote. James Chaney and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner believed so strongly that change was possible they were willing to lay down their lives for it. The least you can do is take them up on the gift that they have given you. (Applause.) Go out there and vote. You can make a change. You do have the power.
I’ve run my last election, but I need you to make sure that the changes that we started continue for decades to come.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America. (Applause.)
4:26 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on April 11, 2014
Political Musings February 28, 2014: Emotional Obama launches My Brother’s Keeper program to help minority youth
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
OP-EDS & ARTICLES
President Barack Obama launched the most personal program to date when on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 27, 2014 he announced in the White House’s East Room another part of his economic opportunity program, called “My Brother’s Keeper…READ MORE
Posted by bonniekgoodman on February 28, 2014
Full Text Obama Presidency February 27, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech Launching My Brother’s Keeper, His New Initiative to Help Young Men of Color
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
President Obama Launches My Brother’s Keeper, His New Initiative to Help Young Men of Color
Source: WH, 2-27-14
This afternoon, in the East Room of the White House, President Obama delivered remarks at the launch event for My Brother’s Keeper — his new initiative aimed at helping young men and boys of color facing tough odds reach their full potential. The initiative will bring together private philanthropies, businesses, governors, mayors, faith leaders, and nonprofit organizations that are committed to helping them succeed….READ MORE
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at an event to highlight “My Brother’s Keeper,” an initiative to expand opportunity for young men and boys of color, in the East Room of the White House, Feb. 27, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Remarks by the President on “My Brother’s Keeper” Initiative
Source: WH, 2-27-14
3:43 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Everybody, please have a seat. Well, good afternoon, everybody.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
THE PRESIDENT: Welcome to the White House. And thank you, Christian, for that outstanding introduction. And thank you for cheering for the White Sox, which is the right thing to do. (Laughter.) Like your parents and your teachers, I could not be prouder of you. I could not be prouder of the other young men who are here today. But just so we’re clear — you’re only excused for one day of school. (Laughter.) And I’m assuming you’ve got your assignments with you so that you can catch up — perhaps even on the flight back. (Laughter.)
As Christian mentioned, I first met Christian about a year ago. I visited the Hyde Park Academy in Chicago, which is only about a mile from my house. And Christian was part of this program called “Becoming a Man.” It’s a program that Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced to me. And it helps young men who show a lot of potential but may have gotten in some trouble to stay on the right path.
They get help with schoolwork, but they also learn life skills like how to be a responsible citizen, and how to deal with life’s challenges, and how to manage frustrations in a constructive way, and how to set goals for themselves. And it works. One study found that, among young men who participate in the BAM program, arrests for violent crimes dropped 44 percent, and they were more likely to graduate from high school. (Applause.)
So as Christian mentioned, during my visit, they’re in a circle and I sat down in the circle, and we went around, led by their counselor, and guys talked about their lives, talked about their stories. They talked about what they were struggling with, and how they were trying to do the right thing, and how sometimes they didn’t always do the right thing. And when it was my turn, I explained to them that when I was their age I was a lot like them. I didn’t have a dad in the house. And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.
And I remember when I was saying this — Christian, you may remember this — after I was finished, the guy sitting next to me said, “Are you talking about you?” (Laughter.) I said, yes.
And the point was I could see myself in these young men. And the only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving, so when I made a mistake the consequences were not as severe. I had people who encouraged me — not just my mom and grandparents, but wonderful teachers and community leaders — and they’d push me to work hard and study hard and make the most of myself. And if I didn’t listen they said it again. And if I didn’t listen they said it a third time. And they would give me second chances, and third chances. They never gave up on me, and so I didn’t give up on myself.
I told these young men my story then, and I repeat it now because I firmly believe that every child deserves the same chances that I had. And that’s why we’re here today — to do what we can, in this year of action, to give more young Americans the support they need to make good choices, and to be resilient, and to overcome obstacles, and achieve their dreams.
This is an issue of national importance — it’s as important as any issue that I work on. It’s an issue that goes to the very heart of why I ran for President — because if America stands for anything, it stands for the idea of opportunity for everybody; the notion that no matter who you are, or where you came from, or the circumstances into which you are born, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then you can make it in this country. (Applause.) That’s the core idea.
And that’s the idea behind everything that I’ll do this year, and for the rest of my presidency. Because at a time when the economy is growing, we’ve got to make sure that every American shares in that growth, not just a few. And that means guaranteeing every child in America has access to a world-class education. It means creating more jobs and empowering more workers with the skills they need to do those jobs. It means making sure that hard work pays off with wages you can live on and savings you can retire on and health care that you can count on. It means building more ladders of opportunity into the middle class for anybody who’s willing to work hard to climb them.
Those are national issues. They have an impact on everybody. And the problem of stagnant wages and economic insecurity and stalled mobility are issues that affect all demographic groups all across the country. My administration’s policies — from early childhood education to job training, to minimum wages — are designed to give a hand up to everybody, every child, every American willing to work hard and take responsibility for their own success. That’s the larger agenda.
But the plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society — groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions; groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations. And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color.
Now, to say this is not to deny the enormous strides we’ve made in closing the opportunity gaps that marred our history for so long. My presence is a testimony to that progress. Across this country, in government, in business, in our military, in communities in every state we see extraordinary examples of African American and Latino men who are standing tall and leading, and building businesses, and making our country stronger. Some of those role models who have defied the odds are with us here today — the Magic Johnsons or the Colin Powells who are doing extraordinary things — the Anthony Foxxes.
Anthony, yesterday he and I were talking about how both of us never knew our dads, and shared that sense of both how hard that had been but also how that had driven us to succeed in many ways. So there are examples of extraordinary achievement. We all know that. We don’t need to stereotype and pretend that there’s only dysfunction out there. But 50 years after Dr. King talked about his dream for America’s children, the stubborn fact is that the life chances of the average black or brown child in this country lags behind by almost every measure, and is worse for boys and young men.
If you’re African American, there’s about a one in two chance you grow up without a father in your house — one in two. If you’re Latino, you have about a one in four chance. We know that boys who grow up without a father are more likely to be poor, more likely to underperform in school.
As a black student, you are far less likely than a white student to be able to read proficiently by the time you are in 4th grade. By the time you reach high school, you’re far more likely to have been suspended or expelled. There’s a higher chance you end up in the criminal justice system, and a far higher chance that you are the victim of a violent crime. Fewer young black and Latino men participate in the labor force compared to young white men. And all of this translates into higher unemployment rates and poverty rates as adults.
And the worst part is we’ve become numb to these statistics. We’re not surprised by them. We take them as the norm. We just assume this is an inevitable part of American life, instead of the outrage that it is. (Applause.) That’s how we think about it. It’s like a cultural backdrop for us — in movies and television. We just assume, of course, it’s going to be like that. But these statistics should break our hearts. And they should compel us to act.
Michelle and I are blessed with two beautiful daughters. We don’t have a son. But I know if I had a son, on the day he was born I would have felt everything I felt with Malia and Sasha — the awe, the gratitude, the overwhelming sense of responsibility to do everything in my power to protect that amazing new life from this big world out there. And just as our daughters are growing up into wonderful, beautiful young women, I’d want my son to feel a sense of boundless possibility. And I’d want him to have independence and confidence. And I’d want him to have empathy and compassion. I’d want him to have a sense of diligence and commitment, and a respect for others and himself — the tools that he’d need to succeed.
I don’t have a son, but as parents, that’s what we should want not just for our children, but for all children. (Applause.) And I believe the continuing struggles of so many boys and young men — the fact that too many of them are falling by the wayside, dropping out, unemployed, involved in negative behavior, going to jail, being profiled — this is a moral issue for our country. It’s also an economic issue for our country.
After all, these boys are a growing segment of our population. They are our future workforce. When, generation after generation, they lag behind, our economy suffers. Our family structure suffers. Our civic life suffers. Cycles of hopelessness breed violence and mistrust. And our country is a little less than what we know it can be. So we need to change the statistics — not just for the sake of the young men and boys, but for the sake of America’s future.
That’s why, in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, with all the emotions and controversy that it sparked, I spoke about the need to bolster and reinforce our young men, and give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them. (Applause.) And I’m grateful that Trayvon’s parents, Sybrina and Tracy, are here with us today, along with Jordan Davis’s parents, Lucy and Ron.
In my State of the Union address last month, I said I’d pick up the phone and reach out to Americans willing to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds to stay on track and reach their full potential, so America can reach its full potential. And that’s what today is all about.
After months of conversation with a wide range of people, we’ve pulled together private philanthropies and businesses, mayors, state and local leaders, faith leaders, nonprofits, all who are committed to creating more pathways to success. And we’re committed to building on what works. And we call it “My Brother’s Keeper.”
Now, just to be clear — “My Brother’s Keeper” is not some big, new government program. In my State of the Union address, I outlined the work that needs to be done for broad-based economic growth and opportunity for all Americans. We have manufacturing hubs, infrastructure spending — I’ve been traveling around the country for the last several weeks talking about what we need to do to grow the economy and expand opportunity for everybody. And in the absence of some of those macroeconomic policies that create more good jobs and restore middle-class security, it’s going to be harder for everyone to make progress. And for the last four years, we’ve been working through initiatives like Promise Zones to help break down the structural barriers — from lack of transportation to substandard schools — that afflict some of this country’s most impoverished counties, and we’ll continue to promote these efforts in urban and rural counties alike.
Those are all government initiatives, government programs that we think are good for all Americans and we’re going to keep on pushing for them. But what we’re talking about here today with “My Brother’s Keeper” is a more focused effort on boys and young men of color who are having a particularly tough time. And in this effort, government cannot play the only — or even the primary — role. We can help give every child access to quality preschool and help them start learning from an early age, but we can’t replace the power of a parent who’s reading to that child. We can reform our criminal justice system to ensure that it’s not infected with bias, but nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life. (Applause.)
In other words, broadening the horizons for our young men and giving them the tools they need to succeed will require a sustained effort from all of us. Parents will have to parent — and turn off the television, and help with homework. (Applause.) Teachers will need to do their part to make sure our kids don’t fall behind and that we’re setting high expectations for those children and not giving up on them. Business leaders will need to create more mentorships and apprenticeships to show more young people what careers are out there. Tech leaders will need to open young eyes to fields like computer science and engineering. Faith leaders will need to help our young men develop the values and ethical framework that is the foundation for a good and productive life.
So we all have a job to do. And we can do it together — black and white, urban and rural, Democrat and Republican. So often, the issues facing boys and young men of color get caught up in long-running ideological arguments about race and class, and crime and poverty, the role of government, partisan politics. We’ve all heard those arguments before. But the urgency of the situation requires us to move past some of those old arguments and focus on getting something done and focusing on what works. It doesn’t mean the arguments are unimportant; it just means that they can’t paralyze us. And there’s enough goodwill and enough overlap and agreement that we should be able to go ahead and get some things done, without resolved everything about our history or our future.
Twenty years ago, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson started a program in the Miami public school system — feel free to stand up. (Applause.) To help young boys at risk of dropping out of school. Today, it serves thousands of students in dozens of schools.
As Mayor of New York, Mayor Bloomberg — Michael Bloomberg, who’s here today, started a “Young Men’s Initiative” for African-American and Latino boys, because he understood that in order for America to compete we need to make it easier for all our young people to do better in the classroom and find a job once they graduate.
A bipartisan group of mayors called “Cities United” has made this issue a priority in communities across the country. Senator Mike Lee — a leader of the tea party — has been working with Senator Dick Durbin — a Democrat from my home state of Illinois — to reduce disparities in our criminal justice system that have hit the African American and Latino communities especially hard.
So I want to thank everybody who’s been doing incredible work — many of the people who are here today, including members of Congress, who have been focused on this and are moving the needle in their communities and around the country.
They understand that giving every young person who’s willing to work hard a shot at opportunity should not be a partisan issue. Yes, we need to train our workers, invest in our schools, make college more affordable — and government has a role to play. And, yes, we need to encourage fathers to stick around, and remove the barriers to marriage, and talk openly about things like responsibility and faith and community. In the words of Dr. King, it is not either-or; it is both-and.
And if I can persuade Sharpton and O’Reilly to be in the same meeting — (laughter and applause) — then it means that there are people of good faith who want to get some stuff done, even if we don’t agree on everything. And that’s our focus.
While there may not be much of an appetite in Congress for sweeping new programs or major new initiatives right now, we all know we can’t wait. And so the good news is folks in the private sector who know how important boosting the achievement of young men of color is to this country — they are ready to step up.
Today, I’m pleased to announce that some of the most forward-looking foundations in America are looking to invest at least $200 million over the next five years — on top of the $150 million that they’ve already invested — to test which strategies are working for our kids and expand them in cities across the country. (Applause.)
Many of these folks have been on the front lines in this fight for a long time. What’s more, they’re joined by business leaders, corporate leaders, entrepreneurs who are stepping forward to support this effort as well. And my administration is going to do its part. So today after my remarks are done, I’m going to pen this presidential memorandum directing the federal government not to spend more money, but to do things smarter, to determine what we can do right now to improve the odds for boys and young men of color, and make sure our agencies are working more effectively with each other, with those businesses, with those philanthropies, and with local communities to implement proven solutions.
And part of what makes this initiative so promising is that we actually know what works — and we know when it works. Now, what do I mean by that? Over the years, we’ve identified key moments in the life of a boy or a young man of color that will, more often than not, determine whether he succeeds, or falls through the cracks. We know the data. We know the statistics. And if we can focus on those key moments, those life-changing points in their lives, you can have a big impact; you can boost the odds for more of our kids.
First of all, we know that during the first three years of life, a child born into a low-income family hears 30 million fewer words than a child born into a well-off family. And everybody knows babies are sponges, they just soak that up. A 30-million-word deficit is hard to make up. And if a black or Latino kid isn’t ready for kindergarten, he’s half as likely to finish middle school with strong academic and social skills. So by giving more of our kids access to high-quality early education — and by helping parents get the tools they need to help their children succeed — we can give more kids a better shot at the career they’re capable of, and the life that will make us all better off. So that’s point number one right at the beginning.
Point number two, if a child can’t read well by the time he’s in 3rd grade, he’s four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19 than one who can. And if he happens to be poor, he’s six times less likely to graduate. So by boosting reading levels, we can help more of our kids make the grade, keep on advancing, reach that day that so many parents dream of — until it comes close and then you start tearing up — and that’s when they’re walking across the stage, holding that high school diploma.
Number three, we know that Latino kids are almost twice as likely as white kids to be suspended from school. Black kids are nearly four times as likely. And if a student has been suspended even once by the time they’re in 9th grade they are twice as likely to drop out.
That’s why my administration has been working with schools on alternatives to the so-called “zero tolerance” guidelines — not because teachers or administrators or fellow students shold have to put up with bad behavior, but because there are ways to modify bad behavior that lead to good behavior — as opposed to bad behavior out of school. We can make classrooms good places for learning for everybody without jeopardizing a child’s future. (Applause.) And by building on that work, we can keep more of our young men where they belong — in the classroom, learning, growing, gaining the skills they need to succeed.
Number four, we know that students of color are far more likely than their white classmates to find themselves in trouble with the law. If a student gets arrested, he’s almost twice as likely to drop out of school. By making sure our criminal justice system doesn’t just function as a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, we can help young men of color stay out of prison, stay out of jail. And that means then, they’re more likely to be employable, and to invest in their own families, and to pass on a legacy of love and hope.
And finally, we know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be “disconnected” — not in school, not working. We’ve got to reconnect them. We’ve got to give more of these young men access to mentors. We’ve got to contine to encourage responsible fatherhood. We’ve got to provide more pathways to apply to college or find a job. We can keep them from falling through the cracks, and help them lay a foundation for a career and a family and a better life.
In the discussion before we came in, General Powell talked about the fact that there are going to be some kids who just don’t have a family at home that is functional, no matter how hard we try. But just an adult, any adult who’s paying attention can make a difference. Any adult who cares can make a difference.
Magic was talking about being in a school in Chicago, and rather than going to the school he brought the school to the company, All-State, that was doing the work. And suddenly, just that one conversation meant these young men saw something different. A world opened up for them. It doesn’t take that much. But it takes more than we’re doing now.
And that’s what “My Brother’s Keeper” is all about — helping more of our young people stay on track; providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future; building on what works, when it works, in those critical life-changing moments. And when I say, by the way, building on what works, it means looking at the actual evidence of what works. There are a lot of programs out there that sound good, are well-intentioned, well-inspired, but they’re not actually having an impact. We don’t have enough money or time or resources to invest in things that don’t work, so we’ve got to be pretty hard-headed about saying if something is not working, let’s stop doing it. Let’s do things that work. And we shouldn’t care whether it was a Democratic program or a Republican program, or a fait-based program or — if it works, we should support it. If it doesn’t, we shouldn’t.
And all the time recognizing that “my neighbor’s child is my child” — that each of us has an obligation to give every child the same chance this country gave so many of us.
So, in closing, let me just say this. None of this is going to be easy. This is not a one-year proposition. It’s not a two-year proposition. It’s going to take time. We’re dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society, and are entrenched in our minds. And addressing these issues will have to be a two-way bargain. Because no matter how much the community chips in, it’s ultimately going to be up to these young men and all the young men who are out there to step up and seize responsibility for their own lives. (Applause.)
And that’s why I want to close by speaking directly to the young men who are here today and all the boys and young men who are watching at home. Part of my message, part of our message in this initiative is “no excuses.” Government and private sector and philanthropy and all the faith communities — we all have a responsibility to help provide you the tools you need; we’ve got to help you knock down some of the barriers that you experience. That’s what we’re here for. But you’ve got responsibilities, too.
And I know you can meet the challenge — many of you already are — if you make the effort. It may be hard, but you will have to reject the cynicism that says the circumstances of your birth or society’s lingering injustices necessarily define you and your future. It will take courage, but you will have to tune out the naysayers who say the deck is stacked against you, you might as well just give up — or settle into the stereotype.
It’s not going to happen overnight, but you’re going to have to set goals and you’re going to have to work for those goals. Nothing will be given to you. The world is tough out there, there’s a lot of competition for jobs and college positions, and everybody has to work hard. But I know you guys can succeed. We’ve got young men up here who are starting to make those good choices because somebody stepped in and gave them a sense of how they might go about it.
And I know it can work because of men like Maurice Owens, who’s here today. I want to tell Moe’s story just real quick.
When Moe was four years old, he moved with his mom Chauvet from South Carolina to the Bronx. His mom didn’t have a lot of money, and they lived in a tough neighborhood. Crime was high. A lot of young men ended up in jail or worse. But she knew the importance of education, so she got Moe into the best elementary school that she could find. And every morning, she put him on a bus; every night, she welcomed him when he came home.
She took the initiative, she eventually found a sponsorship program that allowed Moe to attend a good high school. And while many of his friends got into trouble, some of it pretty serious, Moe just kept on getting on the bus, and kept on working hard and reaching for something better. And he had some adults in his life that were willing to give him advice and help him along the way. And he ended up going to college. And he ended up serving his country in the Air Force. And today, Moe works in the White House, just two doors down from the Oval Office, as the Special Assistant to my Chief of Staff. (Applause.) And Moe never misses a chance to tell kids who grew up just like he did that if he can make it, they can, too.
Moe and his mom are here today, so I want to thank them both for this incredible example. Stand up, Moe, and show off your mom there. (Applause.) Good job, Moe.
So Moe didn’t make excuses. His mom had high expectations. America needs more citizens like Moe. We need more young men like Christian. We will beat the odds. We need to give every child, no matter what they look like, where they live, the chance to reach their full potential. Because if we do — if we help these wonderful young men become better husbands and fathers, and well-educated, hardworking, good citizens — then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass on those lessons on to their children, on to their grandchildren, will start a different cycle. And this country will be richer and stronger for it for generations to come.
So let’s get going. Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
4:17 P.M. EST
Posted by bonniekgoodman on February 27, 2014
Full Text Obama Presidency July 19, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Trayvon Martin Verdict
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
Remarks by the President on Trayvon Martin
Source: WH, 7- 19-13
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:33 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I wanted to come out here, first of all, to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is very much looking forward to the session. The second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to obviously be a whole range of issues — immigration, economics, et cetera — we’ll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.
The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week — the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling. I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday. But watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.
First of all, I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation. I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.
The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there’s going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case — I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues. The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict. And once the jury has spoken, that’s how our system works. But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling.
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys. But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.
Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this? How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction? I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family. But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do.
I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code. And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.
That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive. So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff, so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.
Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.
When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.
And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and, in turn, be more helpful in applying the law. And obviously, law enforcement has got a very tough job.
So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive. And I think a lot of them would be. And let’s figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.
Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.
I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the “stand your ground” laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case. On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?
And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I’d just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
Number three — and this is a long-term project — we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys. And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about. There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?
I’m not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program. I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I’ve got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front. And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation. And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.
And then, finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.
And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are — they’re better than we were — on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.
And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues. And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.
Thank you, guys.
1:52 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on July 19, 2013