Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dissatisfaction With Obama's Response to Racial Conflict

With recent protests against the development in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, civil rights activists have been expecting President Obama to respond to the conflict. Yet, they claim that he hasn't been "the kind of champion for racial justice" that they need, even though he's in the right position to be (New York Times). Obama rejects these statements, saying that he is being as "explicit" as he can in public, but implies that only out of the public eye is when he can discuss his true feelings toward the subject. However, White House advisers agree that responses from the president will have a significant impact, in the case of his presidential legacy.

I believe that the activists' expectations for Obama are too extreme. It will take time for the United States to heal from the centuries of racism of the past, and Obama won't be able to immediately fix the problem. I appreciate that he has taken the time to listen to civil rights leaders and address the recent events, but if he continues to lose public support (Pew Research), he will likely have to take a stronger stance on the issue. 

Questions:
What reasons might Obama have for not speaking out strongly about the recent racial conflicts? 
Do you think he should make a stronger public statement, and how would doing so affect his final two years in office and his legacy? 

10 comments:

Brendan Vroom 6 said...

I agree that Obama should not be coming forward with too much support for the protests against the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. This issue is extremely controversial right now, with Americans becoming polarized on both sides of the spectrum on this issue. Some are taking to the streets and demonstrating (both violently and non-violently) while others are strictly criticizing the protests, and are defending the actions of the police officers, Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo. If Obama was to take a more extreme position on this issue, he would risk losing support from Americans who believe the actions of Pantaleo and Wilson were justified.

http://www.people-press.org/2014/08/18/stark-racial-divisions-in-reactions-to-ferguson-police-shooting/

John Graham said...

I think that the events that have unfolded in the past month or so are very hard to confront and I think it's understandable that Obama hasn't spoken up in support of racial justice and has not implicitly chastised law enforcement.

After all, I always viewed Obama as simply silent on many matters of race. I see him as distant, not completely able to relate to the sentiments of minorities because he is the most powerful executive in the country, he lives a life void of the mundane vicissitudes a regular citizen has to experience.

Brendan is right when he says that too firm a position could alienate many socially conservative Democrats who thought that the actions of the officers were justified. And many far right conservatives would charge Obama with giving blacks the upper hand unless he walked the fine line of neutrality.

In addition I think it makes sense to say that because the executive branch is, in very general terms, responsible for the enforcement of the law, what Obama says on the issue could alter the way all police officers and other law enforcers perform their jobs. Obama, as the Chief Executive, must choose his words wisely.

Cameron Jacobs said...
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Cameron Jacobs said...

While I agree that Obama could lose the support of certain demographics if he has a polarizing opinion, I do not think he should stay silent. As you may or may not know, Eric Garner was approached on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. When he resisted arrest several officers approached him, culminating with a "chokehold" from Daniel Pantaleo, a man who had been accused of abusing his power in the past, which ultimately led to Garner's death one hour later. Not only is the "chokehold" an illegal police maneuver, but Garner could be heard saying I can't breathe 11 times. Pantaleo was not indicted. The Brown case is similar in that an African American man was killed after resisting an arrest involving a minor crime. While I don't think Obama should alienate certain demographics, I still think he should voice some disapproval. I personally believe Obama should choose to act on what he believes is just, not what he thinks will help improve his legacy. However, his political career would certainly benefit from a positive reputation.

Katie Wysong 6 said...

I don't think Obama has been "silent." Obama has spoken out in favor of the protests, as long as they are peaceful. I think it is a politically smart, as well as just good for the country, that Obama has been clear to only support the non-violent protest. His support lines up with his background as a community organizer, before going into politics.
Additionally, the Justice department, which is part of the Executive branch, is investigating both deaths under civil rights laws. The Obama administration/Holder DoJ have increased the number of Civil Rights investigations. Additionally, Obama has spoken out in favor of body camera's on police officers and other reforms to increase trust between communities and their police forces.
Though it definitely could be argued that Obama has not used his position to speak out enough, he has done something.

Wesley Lee said...
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Wesley Lee said...

Throughout his presidency, Obama has played the more centralist and moderate role, not often taking a strong stance on an issue. While the Brown and Garner cases are in extremely murky water right now, I do believe Obama should take a stance soon. While this may alienate some of the people on one end of the spectrum or the other, playing the silent moderate type may perhaps not be most beneficial choice. Saying nothing is still saying something. This could possibly be an opportunity for Obama to display some strong opinion and firm leadership - something he will need for the coming two years. With a Republican majority Congress, Obama should garner as much support as he can, whether it be from one side of the argument or the other.

CleoWienbar7 said...

I believe Obama is trying to not fan the flames by avoiding direct comments on the Brown and Garner cases. Rather, he is focusing on larger issues that are the cause of incidents like the ones mentioned above, like police militarization. Unfortunately, these indirect actions will never get the same kind of media coverage as a statement explicitly concerning Brown or Garner, all but ensuring that people will continue to criticize Obama for his perceived inaction. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/01/politics/obama-police-militarization/)
While some people may want him to speak out on racial profiling, he knows that whatever he says will be criticized by both sides for going to far or not going far enough.

Brian Yee said...

Obama hasn't been completely silent. For example, he introduced the body cameras for policemen to monitor their activity. I think this was more of a neutral action, since for him to take sides on racial issues could hurt his political career and reputation. Not that I'm completely defending Obama, but race relations is a legacy of a troubled racial past. So to say that conditions have worsened during his presidency is a bit of a misnomer. I agree with John that he needs to choose his words carefully otherwise he could threaten his career and possibly the reputation of the Democratic party itself.

anish amirapu said...

I think Obama is playing it smart by not being too strong in his responses. he is the president and thus it is best for him to be neutral as much as he can. With any action he takes he is going to get backlash like he is right now. Another reason he may not do anything so that he can maintain an even spread for his support rather than just relying on one portion of people. I do not think it will have a huge impact on his last 2 years since it is just one event and losing the support of one group versus the even spread he has which is the majority of people would not cost him much. Also it could be seen that he made up for by gaining more support from the Hispanic because of the immigration policy.