Bridging the Divide: President Obama Delivers a Speech for the Ages

By: Alex Moore

The past week or so has been a heartbreaking few days for our country, to say the least. We are all aware of the horrendous events that have taken place in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas. Following the (what appear to be egregiously unjustified) officer involved shootings of unarmed black men in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and the attack against Dallas police officers during a protest over the two aforementioned shootings, President Obama delivered a speech at the memorial for the 5 Dallas police officers killed.

The speech, which is linked above, articulates exactly how I feel as though our country should move forward as we attempt to address the issue of racial equality, particularly as it pertains to policing and criminal justice. I strongly implore all of you who read this to watch the speech in its entirety. It is well worth the 40 minutes (plus we only get to hear Obama, an all-time great orator, speak publicly like this for a few more months so enjoy it).

There were a few highlights that I found myself in complete agreement with. First and foremost, when it comes to instances of police use of force, sentencing, stop and frisks, etc, it is indisputable that black Americans are more likely to be targeted, sentenced more strictly, or the victim of excessive use of force at the hands of police than whites. This is unacceptable. America is a country that prides itself on equal protection under the law for one of, if not the most diverse sets of citizens the world has ever seen. This is one of the things that I feel as though make America great. To see one segment of the population unfairly discriminated against, particularly one that has historically been horrifically oppressed, goes against everything that we as a country are supposed to stand for and one of the things that makes America an example for the rest of the world (a shining city on a hill, to invoke Reagan). The majority of black Americans articulate that they face discrimination. To simply dismiss these calls is blasphemous, as Obama points out. White people, myself included, all need to do a much better job of listening to black Americans articulate the discrimination that they face on a daily basis. To dismiss these as “complaints” or “reverse racism” is indicative of an allergy to facts that reminds me of Donald Trump. I mean, folks, Newt Gingrich recently outlined how it’s more dangerous to be black in America and that white folks have got to listen. NEWT GINGRICH! In doing so, he made a great point: as white Americans, we have no idea what its like to be black. The only way we can find out is by engaging black people and listening to them. If black lives matter to Newt, they can matter to you, too.

Moreover, I agree with President Obama’s analysis as it pertains to anti-police rhetoric. As Obama points out, simplified and inflammatory rhetoric has the potential to act as a conduit of sorts for deranged and mentally sick individuals like the Dallas shooter to embark on racially charged anti-police violence. For example, according to the mother of the Dallas shooter, he was upset that “in 2016, (blacks) were still being treated like 1816.” In my opinion, it is downright irresponsible to insinuate as such, because we know it isn’t true, yet it still has the potential to incite violence. Obama makes this point as well, outlining that, while we have miles to go, we have made substantive progress in racial equality. We all need to watch our rhetoric and ensure that we engage in productive dialogue as opposed to yelling at one another in simplified phrases (saying “All lives matter” or “black on black crime!” is silly, so is insinuating that every cop is bloodthirsty and racist). As Obama points out, avoiding these incendiary claims will help us move forward as we push to address the issue of systemic oppression of black Americans. We must bring the black community and our police closer together, not tear them further apart.

In order to address this issue, I feel as though we all should attack it exactly how President Obama does in this speech. With a nuanced, thoughtful, articulate argument that appreciates both sides of the divide and finds a way to bridge the two sides together to find a common center (basically the exact opposite of a Trump response). Thank you, President Obama, for delivering these words right when I (and probably many others) needed them most.

PS: was it just me, or did it get a little dusty when Obama told the story of the protesting black mother who was shot during the chaos and helped to safety by police and now her 12 year old son wants to be a cop? There is hope. We’ll figure this thing out. Now lets engage in productive discourse and get to work doing so.

PSS: just juxtapose this elegant speech with the thought of Trump standing at the same podium in the same situation. “Terrible tragedy. Just really, really bad. I mean yuuuuuuuuuuuuge. We should carpet bomb the neighborhood the Dallas shooter is from.”


Photo Credit: Lee Chapman