On Saturday, President Barack Obama said the distrust between police officers and residents in communities like Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown’s death is having a “corrosive effect” on America.
Obama addressed the Congressional Black Caucus’ Phoenix Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C., before a Ferguson police officer and another off-duty officer were reportedly shot later that evening.
Obama acknowledged Brown’s family in the audience and said, “I know that nothing any of us can say can ease the grief of losing a child so soon.”
“But the anger and the emotion that followed his death awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement,” he continued. “And we have to close the justice gap–how justice is applied, but also how it is perceived, how it is experienced. Eric Holder understands this. That’s what we saw in Ferguson this summer, when Michael Brown was killed and a community was divided. We know that the unrest continues.”
Obama said that “too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness.”
“We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities,” he said. “That’s just the statistics. One recent poll showed that the majority of Americans think the criminal justice system doesn’t treat people of all races equally. Think about that. That’s not just blacks, not just Latinos or Asians or Native Americans saying things may not be fair. That’s most Americans.”
Obama told the audience, “And that has a corrosive effect–not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America. It harms the communities that need law enforcement the most.”
“It makes folks who are victimized 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. It scars the hearts of the white kids who grow unnecessarily fearful of somebody who doesn’t look like them. It stains the heart of black children who feel as if no matter what he does, he will always be under suspicion.”