WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama said the widespread mistrust of law enforcement that was exposed by the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, is corroding America, not just its black communities, and that the wariness flows from significant racial disparities in the administration of justice.
Speaking Saturday at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual awards dinner, Obama said these suspicions only harm communities that need law enforcement the most.
“It makes folks who are victimised by crime and need strong policing reluctant to go to the police because they may not trust them,” he said.
“And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children,” leading some youngsters to unnecessarily fear people who do not look like them while leading others to constantly feel under suspicion no matter what they do.
“That is not the society we want,” Obama said. “It’s not the society that our children deserve.”
US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama acknowledge the crowd after he spoke at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 44th Annual Legislative Conference Phoenix Awards Dinner in Washington on September 27 – AFP
The fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in August sparked days of violent protests and racial unrest in predominantly black Ferguson. The police officer who shot Brown was white.
There was even more violence Saturday night in Ferguson when, the authorities say, a police officer was shot in the arm. Circumstances surrounding the latest incident were not immediately clear.
Obama addressed the Michael Brown shooting carefully but firmly, saying the young man’s death and the raw emotion that sprang from it had reawakened the country to the fact that “a gulf of mistrust” exists between local residents and law enforcement in too many communities.
“Too many young men of colour feel targeted by law enforcement – guilty of walking while black or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness,” he said.
He said significant racial disparities remain in the enforcement of law, from drug sentencing to applying the death penalty, and that a majority of Americans think the justice system treats people of different races unequally.
Obama opened his remarks by singling out Attorney General Eric Holder for praise.
Obama announced Holder’s resignation days earlier after nearly six years as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
Holder, who attended the dinner and received a standing ovation, will stay on the job until the Senate confirms a successor.