This is about more than just racist cops

I’d been working on something about the killings of Alton Sterling and Philander Castile. My premise was pretty simple… While it’s certainly appropriate to focus our anger at the police, I was going to suggest, we can’t lose site of the fact that there are larger forces at play. We can’t just blame the police for what is happening in America, and ignore the fact that much of what we’re seeing is the result not just of racist cops but the decisions our elected representatives have made over the last several decades. By segregating our communities, disinvesting in poor and non-white areas, systematically dismantling public education, pushing jobs out of the country, and giving those in poverty little hope of bettering their situations, they’ve created a situation where certain communities have essentially become de facto prison yards, policed by officers whose job it is not to protect and serve but to enforce order at all costs… Thankfully, though, as I was working on this post of mine, President Obama came along and essentially said the same thing, only much more eloquently. Here, in case you missed it, is what he posted last night from Warsaw.


Good evening, everybody. I know we’ve been on a long flight, but given the extraordinary interest in the shootings that took place in Louisiana and Minnesota, I thought it would be important for me to address all of you directly.

And I want to begin by expressing my condolences for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

As I said in the statement that I posted on Facebook, we have seen tragedies like this too many times. The Justice Department, I know, has opened a civil rights investigation in Baton Rouge. The governor of Minnesota, I understand, is calling for an investigation there, as well. As is my practice, given my institutional role, I can’t comment on the specific facts of these cases, and I have full confidence in the Justice Department’s ability to conduct a thorough and fair inquiry.

But what I can say is that all of us as Americans should be troubled by these shootings, because these are not isolated incidents. They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system. And I just want to give people a few statistics to try to put in context why emotions are so raw around these issues.

According to various studies — not just one, but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years — African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over. After being pulled over, African Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites. African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites. African American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.

So that if you add it all up, the African American and Hispanic population, who make up only 30 percent of the general population, make up more than half of the incarcerated population.

Now, these are facts. And when incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same. And that hurts. And that should trouble all of us. This is not just a black issue. It’s not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about. All fair-minded people should be concerned.

Now, let me just say we have extraordinary appreciation and respect for the vast majority of police officers who put their lives on the line to protect us every single day. They’ve got a dangerous job. It is a tough job. And as I’ve said before, they have a right to go home to their families, just like anybody else on the job. And there are going to be circumstances in which they’ve got to make split-second decisions. We understand that.

But when we see data that indicates disparities in how African Americans and Latinos may be treated in various jurisdictions around the country, then it’s incumbent on all of us to say, we can do better than this; we are better than this — and to not have it degenerate into the usual political scrum. We should be able to step back, reflect, and ask ourselves, what can we do better so that everybody feels as if they’re equal under the law?

Now, the good news is, is that there are practices we can institute that will make a difference. Last year, we put together a task force that was comprised of civil rights activists and community leaders, but also law enforcement officials — police captains, sheriffs. And they sat around a table and they looked at the data and they looked at best practices, and they came up with specific recommendations and steps that could ensure that the trust between communities and police departments were rebuilt and incidents like this would be less likely to occur.

And there are some jurisdictions out there that have adopted these recommendations. But there are a whole bunch that have not. And if anything good comes out of these tragedies, my hope is, is that communities around the country take a look and say, how can we implement these recommendations, and that the overwhelming majority of police officers who are doing a great job every single day, and are doing their job without regard to race, that they encourage their leadership and organizations that represent them to get behind these recommendations.

Because, ultimately, if you can rebuild trust between communities and the police departments that serve them, that helps us solve crime problems. That will make life easier for police officers. They will have more cooperation. They will be safer. They will be more likely to come home. So it would be good for crime-fighting and it will avert tragedy.

And I’m encouraged by the fact that the majority of leadership in police departments around the country recognize this. But change has been too slow and we have to have a greater sense of urgency about this.

I’m also encouraged, by the way, that we have bipartisan support for criminal justice reform working its way through Congress. It has stalled and lost some momentum over the last couple of months, in part because Congress is having difficulty, generally, moving legislation forward, and we’re in a political season. But there are people of goodwill on the Republican side and the Democratic side who I’ve seen want to try to get something done here. That, too, would help provide greater assurance across the country that those in power, those in authority are taking these issues seriously. So this should be a spur to action to get that done, to get that across the finish line. Because I know there are a lot of people who want to get it done.

Let me just make a couple of final comments. I mentioned in my Facebook statement that I hope we don’t fall into the typical patterns that occur after these kinds of incidents occur, where right away there’s a lot of political rhetoric and it starts dividing people instead of bringing folks together. To be concerned about these issues is not to be against law enforcement. There are times when these incidents occur, and you see protests and you see vigils. And I get letters — well-meaning letters sometimes — from law enforcement saying, how come we’re under attack? How come not as much emphasis is made when police officers are shot?

And so, to all of law enforcement, I want to be very clear: We know you have a tough job. We mourn those in uniform who are protecting us who lose their lives. On a regular basis, I have joined with families in front of Capitol Hill to commemorate the incredible heroism that they’ve displayed. I’ve hugged family members who’ve lost loved ones doing the right thing. I know how much it hurts. On a regular basis, we bring in those who’ve done heroic work in law enforcement, and have survived. Sometimes they’ve been injured. Sometimes they’ve risked their lives in remarkable ways. And we applaud them and appreciate them, because they’re doing a really tough job really well.

There is no contradiction between us supporting law enforcement — making sure they’ve got the equipment they need, making sure that their collective bargaining rights are recognized, making sure that they’re adequately staffed, making sure that they are respected, making sure their families are supported — and also saying that there are problems across our criminal justice system, there are biases — some conscious and unconscious — that have to be rooted out. That’s not an attack on law enforcement. That is reflective of the values that the vast majority of law enforcement bring to the job.

But I repeat: If communities are mistrustful of the police, that makes those law enforcement officers who are doing a great job and are doing the right thing, it makes their lives harder. So when people say “Black Lives Matter,” that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter; it just means all lives matter, but right now the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents.

This isn’t a matter of us comparing the value of lives. This is recognizing that there is a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens. And we should care about that. We can’t dismiss it. We can’t dismiss it.

So let me just end by saying I actually, genuinely, truly believe that the vast majority of American people see this as a problem that we should all care about. And I would just ask those who question the sincerity or the legitimacy of protests and vigils and expressions of outrage, who somehow label those expressions of outrage as “political correctness,” I’d just ask folks to step back and think, what if this happened to somebody in your family? How would you feel?

To be concerned about these issues is not political correctness. It’s just being an American, and wanting to live up to our best and highest ideals. And it’s to recognize the reality that we’ve got some tough history and we haven’t gotten through all of that history yet. And we don’t expect that in my lifetime, maybe not in my children’s lifetime, that all the vestiges of that past will have been cured, will have been solved, but we can do better. People of goodwill can do better.

And doing better involves not just addressing potential bias in the criminal justice system. It’s recognizing that too often we’re asking police to man the barricades in communities that have been forgotten by all of us for way too long, in terms of substandard schools, and inadequate jobs, and a lack of opportunity.

We’ve got to tackle those things. We can do better. And I believe we will do better.

Thanks very much, everybody.

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  1. Meta
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    This also happened last last night.

    “Snipers Kill 5 Police Officers, Wound Several Others At Dallas Protest”

    Snipers shot and killed five Dallas law enforcement officers and injured another six at the end of a rally in downtown Dallas, where hundreds were protesting police shootings that happened in other parts of the country earlier this week.

    Four of the officers worked for Dallas Police, the fifth was identified as 43-year old transit officer Brent Thompson, of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, or DART.

    Dallas Police Chief David Brown described what he believes is a coordinated attack that intentionally targeted police officers, with at least four people — three men and one woman — involved. Some officers were shot in the back, Brown said.

    Read more:

  2. Posted July 8, 2016 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Yes, and it looks as though the right is taking the opportunity to escalate things even further in response. It’s truly terrifying to consider what the future of America might look like.

    Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 7.32.49 AM

  3. Amanda Edmonds by Proxy
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    As we are all filled with such anger and sadness as the injustice of deaths of more black men hits our hearts and our souls and our newsfeeds yet again, and again… one of the things I want to again invite Ypsi locals to do is attend and participate in what we’re working on at the City of Ypsilanti through a Black Lives Matter/Police-Community Relations Task Force, made up jointly of council members (thank you to councilmember Nicole Brown for co-chairing) and citizens on our Human Relations Commission. Anyone who attends is welcome to also participate, as this group methodically has been going through the national Black Lives Matter recommendations for local government/law enforcement– to figure out how to concretely change policies, training, practices, and oversight in a way that avoids senseless killing like this. The work isn’t fast enough for some people, but the discussions take time, and the learning takes time, for the work to be meaningful and the change to be more than a token resolution. I do hope you’ll consider this as one route to channel your rage and anger. Next meeting is on Monday night.

  4. Francis Baur
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Joe Walsh has only started to behave this way since Glenn Frey’s death.

    I understand it hit him really hard. Didn’t know it made him so racist however.

  5. Brett Cosner
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I really liked Obama’s speech on the subject, your commentary is spot on.

  6. Citywatch
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I agree with you Mark and with President Obama. This is larger even than what has been discussed. Our society has been intentionally divided and segmented. There is a relationship between these current events by the police and against the police and the mass shootings we have witnessed at Sandy Hook, in Orlando and elsewhere. More than, but including guns, more than, but including religious conservatism in all it’s forms, and fed by those who want to stay in power and feel threatened by “the other”. Why should these people worldwide fight directly when we will fight and destroy each other?

  7. Observer
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Let’s talk about what really matters. The murder of Dallas police officers is good for Trump. The planets are aligning for him.

  8. NCK
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Trump is hailed for speaking his mind when he incites violence; President Obama’s life is threatened as he tries to maintain peace. Yep, this makes sense.

  9. EOS
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    This IS about more than racist cops. The racial disparity in incarceration rates is significantly lower than the racial disparity in violent gun use.

  10. M
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Focusing solely on the police is like blaming Detroit teachers for bad standardized test scores. They’re just the frontline people in the war against the poor in this country. They’re the ones standing at the edge of the storm, trying to keep it contained.

  11. Katherine
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    It’s Deja vu all over again. They’re saying that it was a lone gunman in Dallas.

  12. Eel
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    EOS, I’m trying to understand your point when you say, “The racial disparity in incarceration rates is significantly lower than the racial disparity in violent gun use.” Are you saying that more more African Americans should be locked up?

  13. EOS
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink


    Many believe we have a racist problem because black persons are disproportionately represented in prisons. They point to the fact that a higher percentage of blacks are in prison as evidence that our society is racist.

    It may be that black persons commit gun violence at higher rates than white persons. They are more likely to get arrested for gun crimes because they are more likely to be engaged in gun crimes. Look at the rates of gun homicides in general that do not involve a police officer. The number of blacks killing other blacks using handguns is far greater than any other racial category of gun homicide.

    Every incident of a white police officer using a weapon to kill a black person is rapidly spread through mass media across the nation. This exacerbates racial tensions. But why are we not equally outraged when dozens of young blacks are killed each weekend in places like Chicago?

    If we as a society valued all lives more we would be working to reduce the violence for everyone and not overlook the fact that young blacks are killing each other at far greater rates than the occasional rogue cop.

  14. kjc
    Posted July 8, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    such sophistry. yawn.

  15. Posted July 9, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Does EOS still want cameras on black people in the Township? Cause that’s what I remember.

  16. Rat
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Further to your point, did you see this in Salon?

    “Criminalizing the hustle: Policing poor people’s survival strategies from Eric Garner to Alton Sterling”

  17. EOS
    Posted July 9, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Peter, you are wrong as usual. The cameras are intrusive and wrong. I have no trouble speaking for myself. Stop making up shit.

  18. Westside
    Posted July 10, 2016 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Another beautiful day in the mountains. Even these troubles cause only a mild ripple. My place to hang here is The Blue Moon Cafe.

    I keep worrying that Obama is going to go off message with these events and bring up the subject of class in some sort of meaningful way. But he does not disappoint. It’s important that we continue the Clinton narrative that the problem for people of color is poor ignorant racist whites and the problem for white Trump supporters are immigrants and people of color exploiting the social safety net. Diversions are the best way to obscure the real source of the problem.

    I mean when he talks about the judicial system and the inequity in treatment of people of color he doesn’t even bring up the idea of how different the outcomes would be if people had money to hire good lawyers. He doesn’t even mention it and posits the situations cause as race. Bravo President Obama . I was a little worried about him when he got elected but he has really towed the line and now Hillary will keep on doing the same. The problem is certainly not the concentration of wealth in a small minority of people and a system that perpetuates that distribution. If it was I would be part of the problem and I’m a good person so that can’t be it. The problem in this country as we all can clearly see if racist cops and people who hate police. I’m going to donate my next dividend check to the NAACP and an organization that supports police officers. I’m committed to fixing what ails us.

    Time to get the Kayak out for a spin around the lake. Then there’s a wonderful farmer market here on Sunday afternoon. Beautiful produce this time of year, including free range meats and even some early tomatoes. A friend over the winter had a home theater installed in her basement and tonight we’re going to watch Straight Out Of Compton as a little educational entertainment. All my friends at Argus I hope you’re doing well. See you mid-August when we get back home.

    P.S. EOS and Peter – you should rent a place for the summer and get away for a bit, you seem so, upset?

  19. Demetrius
    Posted July 10, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    @ Westside.

    I need to know: Is this just a clueless ramble, or an earnest attempt at satire?

  20. stupid hick
    Posted July 10, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    D, trying to decide whether to laugh or cry? It’s OK to do both.

  21. alan2102
    Posted July 16, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
    July 15, 2016
    No Unity of the Police and the Community is Possible or Desirable
    by Dirk van Westen

  22. alan2102
    Posted July 16, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink
    Legalized Murder and the Politics of Terror
    Posted on Jul 10, 2016
    By Chris Hedges

  23. alan2102
    Posted July 16, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    author and book mentioned in the Hedges piece above:
    A Look at How Liberals Led America Into Having the Highest Prison Rate in The World
    A review of the new book,”The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America.”
    By Yasmin Nair / AlterNet
    October 4, 2014
    “Naomi Murakawa’s slim but dense new book, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, demonstrates that the growth of the carceral state actually came about in the civil-rights era, beginning in the 1940s and continuing through liberal Presidents like Clinton and Obama.”


    The “lesser evil” = the more effective evil (Glen Ford,

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