Francesca Chambers, Daily Mail, December 9, 2014
President Barack Obama got unusually personal during an interview about race relations that aired Monday night on BET.
The president spoke about his experiences as a young black man and opened up about concerns he has about the way his daughters, Sasha and Malia, and future grandsons could be treated in society because of their skin color.
‘I want my children to be seen as the individuals that they are, and I want them to be judged based on the content of their character and their behavior and their talents and their gifts,’ he told BET’s Jeff Johnson.
‘I don’t want them to be objects of fear simply because of misguided attitudes.’
Obama said that part of what makes the racial tension exploding in America ‘so heart breaking and frustrating for a lot of folks’ is ‘the recognition that simply by virtue of color, you’ve got less margin for error.’
That’s particularly true for black boys,’ Obama said.
‘Young men, teenage boys, sometimes they’re gonna do stupid stuff. That’s true whether they’re white, black, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter.’
The president said that ‘most of the time it’s harmless, sometimes it’s careless’ but then they grow up and become contributing members of society, though.
‘And so it’s not simply that we want to make sure that the perfect young man is treated OK. We also want a boy who is a boy, or a young man who is maybe a little confused, maybe makes some mistake, we want them to be given the same benefit of the doubt as any other man would or any other boy would be given,’ he continued.
‘I want my grandsons to be treated like anybody else’s grandsons. If they’re messing up, I think they should be corrected. They’ll first be corrected by me, or their mother or their father.
‘But I dont want them to be subjected to the kind of constant bias that makes them feel as if this is not their home. That they’re not safe in their own neighborhoods, or that they cannot trust the institutions that are put in place supposedly to serve and protect them,’ he stated.
Obama said he believes the video of a New York City policeman holding down Eric Garner and choking him ‘troubled’ Americans of all walks of life and helped them reach the conclusion that it’s time for a national discussion on racial profiling.
‘It used to be that folks would say, well maybe blacks are exaggerating, maybe some of these situations aren’t what they described,’ Obama told Johnson.
‘But we’ve now seen on television, for everybody to see, gives us an opportunity to finally have the kind of conversation that’s been a long time coming.’
The president said that ‘a country’s conscious sometimes has to be triggered by some inconvenience,’ and that’s what the Garner situation did for America.
‘I think a lot of people who saw the Eric Garner video are troubled, even if they haven’t had that same experience themselves’ are not minorities themselves, he said.
‘I think there are a lot of good, well-meaning people, I think there are a lot of police officers who might have looked at that and said, that is a tragedy what happened,’ and we’ve got to try to figure out how to bring this sort of violence to an end, Obama continued.
Furthermore, the peaceful protests that have followed that grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who killed Garner ‘reminds the society, this is not yet done.’
Obama said he believes that as long as protests are peaceful–as he and Johnson agreed the majority have been–they are ‘necessary.’
‘When they turn violent then they’re counter productive,’ he said.
Drawing on his past experience as a community organizer in Chicago, Illinois, Obama acknowledged that his administration feels an ‘enormous’ amount of responsibility for the state of race relations in America, ‘not just because as president you’re always responsible for what happens in this country, but because of my particular experiences that I bring to this office.’
The president said his meeting last week at the Oval Office with young civil rights activists, whom he described as primarily between the ages of 18 and 25, reminded him of his own youth.
The young people told him they had been ‘stopped for no reason’ or ‘generated suspicion’ for being in neighborhoods that ‘supposedly they didn’t belong.’
‘My mind went back to what it was like for me when I was 17, 18, 20, and as I told them, not only do I hear the pain and frustration of being subjected to that kind of constant suspicion, but part of the reason I got into politics, is to figure out how can I bridge some of those gaps of understanding so that the larger country understands this is not just a black problem or a brown problem, this is an American problem,’ Obama told Johnson.
The president hit back at his critics in the African-American community who feel that as someone who identifies as black, he’s not reacting with the appropriate amount of outrage to recent cases of police brutality.
‘Sometimes peoples’ concerns are not based on fact because if you look after what happened with Michael Brown and you look at what happened after Trayvon if you look at the decision after Eric Garner, I’m being pretty explicit about my concern,’ he said, ‘and being pretty explicit about the fact that this is a systemic problem that black folks, and Latinos and others, are not just making this up.’
‘I describe it in very personal terms,’ he continued.
The president observed that what some people in communities of color ‘are frustrated by is me not simply saying, this is what the outcome should have been.’
‘That I cannot do institutionally,’ he contended. ‘It is my Justice Department that is investigating these cases. And part of the rule of law is that I’m not putting my fingers, my thumb on the scale of justice.
Obama said it ‘could compromise investigations if it appeared that I was trying to steer it to a particular outcome.’
Even so, the president said at another point in his interview with Johnson that he believed that Attorney General Eric Holder was correct to launch an investigation into Garner’s death.
Still, it’s very important that investigations are being conducted at the state and local level properly because a ‘high bar’ exists for federal cases, he said.