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Black Americans Question Obama's Response After Shootings, Protests


Last week’s high-profile incidents of gun violence involving race have raised questions about how the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, has responded. Some prominent African Americans are critical.

Cellphone video last week of two African American men being shot at point-blank range by white police officers, one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the other one in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, already had many Americans upset and on edge. On Thursday, an African American gunman opened fire on a peaceful protest in Dallas, killing five white police officers, and leaving many Americans shocked and scared.

During a trip to Poland Saturday, President Obama said the fact that many questionable police shootings are now being captured on video have made more people aware of a long-standing problem.

"For African Americans or Latinos in the pre-smartphone age, I don’t think that people were not aware of the fact that there is evidence of racial bias in our criminal justice system. It's been well-documented, and it's been experienced."

The president said he would leave questions about his legacy on racial matters to the history books, but expressed optimism that things will be better for his two teenage daughters, Malia and Sasha, and for their children:

"And if my voice has been true and positive, then my hope would be that it may not fix everything right away, but it surfaces problems. It frames them. It allows us to wrestle with these issues and try to come up with practical solutions and that that perspective may lead to continued improvement."

FILE - Author and talk show host Tavis Smiley speaks at Book Expo America in New York.
FILE - Author and talk show host Tavis Smiley speaks at Book Expo America in New York.

African Americans critical

Prominent African Americans have criticized Obama’s response to the shootings, including National Public Television show host Tavis Smiley. In an editorial for USA Today newspaper, he chastised the president for planning to visit Dallas where the police officers were shot but not also visiting Louisiana and Minnesota where the two African Americans were killed by police last week.

“These shootings are connected, if not forensically, most certainly for a grieving country, a nation wrestling with what to do about our gun culture." Smiley wrote.

Smiley went on to note that Obama had spoken eloquently from Poland about the "endangerment of black lives in America," but "he needs to visit both Minnesota and Louisiana. To avoid either is to misread the pain that his most loyal constituency, black folk, are feeling in this present moment.”

African American author and academic Cornel West has also criticized Obama’s response to the shootings of black citizens in Louisiana and Baton Rouge, commenting in the Washington Post: “I thought it was weak. He’s always got to explain to white America how black people are feeling. Black people don’t feel as if we’re being treated unequally. It’s a fact that we’re being treated unequally.”

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, July 12, 2016, to board Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., before traveling to Dallas.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, July 12, 2016, to board Marine One for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., before traveling to Dallas.

Planting a seed

With anxiety levels still high, President Obama has struck a determinedly patient and optimistic tone. He said the country has made significant progress, and rejects any suggestion that the country is returning to the racial strife of the 1960’s.

But he acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to be done towards the goal of racial equality. Obama maintains that mending America’s troubled race relations will take time, saying: “We plant a seed, so that others might someday sit in the shade of that tree.”

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