Monday, October 16, 2017

'We've seen tragedies like this too many times'

July 7, 2016 ---President Obama addressed in a speech the fatal shootings of two African American men: Alton Sterling, 37, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, shot to death in a Triple S Food Mart parking lot while selling bootleg CDs. An anonymous 911 call reported that Sterling had a gun, and was threatening someone in the parking lot. 

Two White cops arrived on the scene. Sterling was tackled to the sidewalk. One was kneed Sterling left side; the other cop held pinned down his legs. Sterling was lying on his back on the ground when he was shot multiple times in the back  and chest. Known as the "CD Man", Sterling died from the gunshot wounds.

After 10 months federal prosecutors and investigators concluded that there was not evidence enough to charge Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake ll with violating Sterling's civil rights. The case was turned over the Louisiana attorney general. The investigation revealed that Salamoni pulled his gun, pointed it Sterling's head, and told him "I'll shot you, bitch". The cops said Sterling did not comply with orders to lay on the ground.

Philando Castile, 32, St. Paul, Minnesota, was shot to death July6, 2016 by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Castile was licensed to carry a gun. He told  Yanez that he had a gun on him. The prosecutor said the cop was nervous the day of the shooting, and lost control of the traffic stop. Castile’s girlfriend taped the incident after realizing something untowards was about to happen. The world saw what happened. Castile calmly told Yanez that he had a gun and was licensed to carry it. A permit to legally pack a gun does not count when it comes to African Americans.

Yanez said when he stopped Castile he smelled marijuana in the car. At this point he suddenly "feared for his life." He reasoned that if Castile smoked marijuana with his young daughter in the back seat, he wondered what Castile would do to him. Yanez was not prosecuted for the shooting death of Castile, who died sitting in the front seat of his car as his young daughter and girl friend watched life ebb from his body.

It is these kinds of wanton police shootings that pushed San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick to kneel in protest while the national anthem is being played.

Starting as a lone protester, Kaepernick delivered a clear statement as to why he is staging a protest. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that opposes Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my
A fellow supporter joins Colin Kaepernick in protest during the playing of national anthem.
part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave, and getting away with murder”. The 49ers coach, Chap Kelly, said Kaepernick has a right not to stand for the national anthem, but he reserved the right to tell him to stand.

For his efforts to bring attention to the deadly shootings of African American men, the quarterback is no longer employed. He has become too political for team owners to touch. He has been thoroughly blackballed by the NFL. For now he lecturing at his “Know Your Rights Camp.” Teens and children their taught 10 basic rights when they come in contact with police. The camp is free. 

Kaepernick explained his stance: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

"This is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right”. (NFL Media Report, 2016)

Americans watched President Barack Obama say these words at a press conference when the media asked about a noted professor getting arrested. “I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played,” the president said at the time. “But I think it’s fair to say, No. 1, any of us would be pretty angry; No. 2, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, No. 3 ... that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately”.  

Jiminey Cricket! All hell broke loose! This innocuous statement was made in 2009 after Harvard Professor Henry Gates, an African American, was accused by police of breaking into his own home. He was cuffed and arrested by Cambridge officer James Crowley. 

Returning home from China July 16, Gates discovered the door to his home was jammed. He asked his drive to help him open it. A near-by witness called 911, and reported that two Black men with backpacks were burglarizing the home. Crowley arrived on the scene thinking a burglary was in progress. The witness repeated to Crowley what she saw. She later recanted, saying she did not tell Crowley what he reported. Gates was charged with “disorderly conduct.” The charge was dropped July 21.

Professor Henry Gates cuffed and arrested
The media and pundits kidnapped the incident and ran with it, turning it into national news. Law enforcement accused the President of being antipolice. The media and pundits demanded that President Obama apologize to Cowley, which did not happen. They did not demand that Crowley apologize to Professor Gates for false arrest. The media created brouhaha ended with President Obama inviting the cop and the professor the White House for a “Beer Summit.”

President Obama, VP Joe Biden host "Beer Summit" at White for Gates and Crowley
On July 7, 2016 when President Barack Obama made speech on the shooting deaths of Black men he was branded by the media and White critics. He was jacketed as a racist who hated White people when he declared that if he had a son he would look like Travon Martin, 18. Martin was shot to death in Florida, February 26, 2012 by Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman. He was found not guilty. Zimmerman claimed self-defense.

A European newspaper “The Guardian” began publishing the shooting deaths in America after the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, by Daren Wilson, a White cop is Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s death sparked months of rioting in Ferguson and nationwide. The papers stats show that in 2015 from January to December, of the 1146 people killed by police, 307 were Black men, women and boys. The dead ranged in age from13 to 72. Stats also showed that 5.49 were Native American; 3.49 Hispanic/Latino; 2.95 White, 1.34 Asia/Pacific Islander. In 2016 of the 1093 killed by police in the U.S. 266 were Black men, women and boys, ranging ages from 15 to 77. Stats shows that 10.13 are Native American; 6.16 Black; 3.23 Hispanic/Latino; 2.9 White, 1.17 Asian/Pacific Islander.

Speech made by President Barack Obama  

“Good evening everybody. I know that 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 has opened a civil rights investigation in Baton Rouge, and the governor of Minnesota has called 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 confidence in the Department of Justice. But what I can say is that all of us as Americans should be troubled by the shootings. 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.

President Obama
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 Americans defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost ten 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.

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 that we have extraordinary appreciation and respect for the vast majority of police officers who put their line on the lives every day. They have 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 gonna be circumstances where they’re gonna have 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 are better than this. We are better than this. And to not have it to 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 that there are practices that 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 the table and they looked at the data and looked at best practices. And they came up with specific recommendations and steps that could ensure that the trust between trust between communities and police departments were rebuilt and incidents like this would be less likely to occur.

And there’s 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 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 past 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 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. So let me just make a couple of final comments. I mentioned in my Facebook statement that I hope we don’t fall into 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? 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 have the equipment they need, making sure they’re collective bargaining rights are recognized, making sure they’re adequately staffed, making sure that they are respected, making sure that 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,’ it doesn’t mean ‘blue lives’ don’t matter, it just means all lives matter. But right now, the big concern is the fact that 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 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 the American people see this as a problem that we should all care about. And I would just ask those who question the sincerity or legitimacy of protests and vigils and expressions of outrage who somehow label those expressions of outrage as quote unquote political correctness, I just ask folks to step back and think: what if this happened to someone in your family? How would you feel? To be concerned about these issues is not political correctness, it’s just being 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 lifetimes 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, inadequate jobs and a lack of opportunity. We’ve gotta tackle those things. We can do better. And I believe we will do better.

Thanks very much, everybody.

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