Black Lives Matter Activists Visit the White House
Many of the Black Lives Matter activists should be in jail. Several were involved in violence, rioting and looting in Ferguson, and there is no excuse for lauding their behavior. Yet Obama, always one who will excuse or reward behavior if committed by African Americans, brought several of the activists together to meet with other civil rights “leaders” and con men like Al Sharpton and congressman John Lewis. It was an embarrassing and outrageous display of pandering, not worthy of a civic leader, let alone a president of the United States.
Barack Obama praised young Black Lives Matter activists in the White House on Thursday, taking special notice of prominent Ferguson protesters and describing the meeting as a moment to bridge differences in a younger, changing civil rights movement.
“Overall, what I am most encouraged by is the degree of focus and seriousness and constructiveness that exists not only with existing civil rights organizations, but this new generation,” the president said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “They are some serious young people. I told them that they are much better organizers than I was when I was their age, and I am confident that they are going to take America to new heights. My job is just to make sure that I'm listening to them and learning from them a little bit.”
“The degree of focus and seriousness and constructiveness” they show reminded him of older, existing civil rights organizations, he added.
The panel, which included the Rev Al Sharpton and congressman John Lewis, was convened to discuss the administration’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system, as well as the process of building trust between law enforcement and communities.
Both issues disproportionately affect black Americans, who are more likely to be incarcerated, experience police brutality or be killed by the police than are white Americans.
Since Obama took office, the US incarceration rate has steadily declined for the first time in more than a half century. The president also lobbied for and signed legislation that reduced the sentencing disparity between charges related to cocaine and crack – a disparity that disproportionately affected black Americans.
In July, the president commuted the sentences of 46 prisoners, and became the first sitting president to visit a federal correctional facility. The visit accompanied a major criminal justice policy speech delivered to the NAACP national convention where Obama declared that “mass incarceration makes our entire country worse off, and we need to do something about it”.
In December, Obama commuted another 95 sentences. The last president to use this power so prolifically was Lyndon Johnson.
While the incarceration rate for blacks is higher than the general population, that is not necessarily because of institutional racism. The rate of out-of-wedlock births in the black community is over 70 percent, with the vast majority of those families led by only the mother, both elements being predictive of a much higher poverty and crime rate for children raised in such an environment. But Obama sees only racism, bigotry, and unfairness, and he is determined to punish society for that injustice. Unfortunately, Obama sees everything through the prism of discrimination against his blackness, in spite of his very privileged upbringing.
However, not all Black Lives Matter leaders were interested in meeting with the president or hearing his spin on the movement. Aislinn Pulley, who co-founded Black Lives Matter: Chicago declined the invitation, stating that she wants much more serious action taken against anyone she perceives as an enemy to the black community, and particularly the police.
Pulley said Thursday she was not interested in being a part of what she called “a photo opportunity and a 90-second sound bite for the president.”
“I was under the impression that a meeting was being organized to facilitate a genuine exchange on the matters facing millions of Black and Brown people in the United States,” Pulley wrote in an op-ed piece. “I could not, with any integrity, participate in such a sham that would only serve to legitimize the false narrative that the government is working to end police brutality and the institutional racism that fuels it. For the increasing number of families fighting for justice and dignity for their kin slain by police, I refuse to give its perpetrators and enablers political cover by making an appearance among them.”
“If the administration is serious about addressing the issues of Black Lives Matter Chicago — and its sister organizations that go by different names across this nation — they can start by meeting the simple demands of families who want transparency, who want police that kill Black people unjustly to be fired, indicted and held accountable,” Pulley wrote. “A meeting arranged to carry this out is one that would be worthy of consideration. Until this begins to happen on a mass scale, any celebrations of Black History that go on inside the walls of the White House are hollow and ceremonial at best.”
So in the final analysis, Obama truly was and still is nothing more than a community organizer, intent on airing his grievances and demanding compensation and retribution for all of the perceived injustices he sees as proxy for these young whiners. It is likely that there are still some instances of racial bias, but the most unfortunate thing is that Obama really did have a chance to help heal the racial divide in this country. Instead, he reverted to his community organizer roots and has given these young demonstrators and activists legitimacy and license to continue blaming and demanding rather than helping and healing.