During a comprehensive interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep that was released Monday, President Obama spoke at length on a number of hot-button topics and issues that have come to the forefront in 2014. One of the issues he touched on was race relations in this country. Inskeep asked POTUS if the country is more racially divided than it was six years ago when he first set foot in the White House. President Obama explained that day-to-day interactions between people of different races is likely better than it was in the past, but the issues that have come to the forefront due to Ferguson and Eric Garner are likely “healthy” for the country as we are now addressing them.
Below is from NPR’s transcript of the interview:
No, I actually think that it’s probably in its day-to-day interactions less racially divided. But I actually think that the issue has surfaced in a way that probably is healthy.
I mean, the issue of police and communities of color being mistrustful of each other is hardly new; that dates back a long time. It’s just something that hasn’t been talked about — and for a variety of reasons.
In some cases, something as simple as the fact that everybody has cellphones now so that you can record some of these events, you know, it’s gotten a lot of attention; I think that’s good. I think it then points to our ability to solve these problems.
It’s understandable the polls might say, you know, that race relations have gotten worse — because when it’s in the news and you see something like Ferguson or the Garner case in New York, then it attracts attention. But I assure you, from the perspective of African-Americans or Latinos in poor communities who have been dealing with this all their lives, they wouldn’t suggest somehow that it’s worse now than it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago.
After providing that answer, Inskeep brought up the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Inskeep pointed out that polls show the majority of white people believe the grand jury’s decision was correct while minorities feel it was not fair. The NPR interviewer wanted to know how the President felt about the fact that different races see things very differently in this country on certain issues and if he was going to try to address that more over his final two years in the White House.
In answering Inskeep, Obama pointed back to his time in the Illinois State Legislature and said that better data combined with training can lead to more effective policing and a reduction of racial profiling. He also referred to the task force he has put in place, which is comprised of law enforcement, activists and community leaders, as an attempt to get progress done in this area.
I think that the fact that there’s a conversation about it, and that there are tools out there that we know can make a difference in bridging those gaps of understanding and mistrust, should make us optimistic.
You know, when I was in the state Legislature in Illinois, I passed a racial-profiling bill. From the perspective of African-Americans, yeah, there was a common, you know, phenomenon called “driving while black” — that you were more likely to be stopped particularly in certain jurisdictions.
If you’d asked whites in those jurisdictions, “Do you think traffic stops were done fairly?” the majority of whites probably would say yes because it’s not something they experience. It’s not because of racism; it’s just that it’s not something that they see.
We were able to work with the police departments and the state police in Illinois and persuade them that they would be doing a better job policing if we just kept track so that we had data. And combined with training, suddenly those officers out there are more intentional about how they decide should I stop somebody or not. And the incidents of racial profiling went down.
The same is true with a lot of these issues. If you have good policing, I guarantee you that nobody’s interested more in good policing than African-American community or Latino community because they’re more likely to be victimized, if they’re in low-income communities, by crime.
And the task force that I’ve put together is drawing from police and faith community and civic leaders and activists — and what’s been striking to me in the conversations we’ve had is that they’re interested in solving a problem as opposed to simply stewing in the hopelessness of race relations in this country. And I’m convinced that we actually are going to see progress on this issue next year.
Thankfully, Obama didn’t shy away from Inskeep’s questions or give pat answers regarding a sensitive topic. It is apparent that Obama knows his place historically as the nation’s first black president and how he is looked to for answers regarding race relations in this country. He also seems very aware of the fact that many within the black community look to him to lead and provide guidance on certain issues that affect their members more than whites in this country. It was refreshing to see President Obama tackle the questions and provide legitimate and well-thought answers throughout the interview.
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