During his recent press conference with Spain’s President, Barack Obama insisted that America’s police will be “a lot safer” if they bow to the Black Lives Matter claim that they are the “problem.”
As he stood next to Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, Obama insisted that unless cops agree that they are part of the problem no “solutions” can be had to fix the relations between police and the community.
Equating the often riotous Black Lives Matter movement to the movement to abolish slavery, Obama said that as BLM “speaks truth to power,” oftentimes change in the U.S. has been “messy.”
“The abolition movement was contentious. The effort for women to get the right to vote was contentious and messy. There were times when activists might have engaged in rhetoric that was overheated and occasionally counterproductive,” Obama said.
Obama also included Black Lives Matter with many of the nation’s other movements.
“The same was true with the Civil Rights Movement, the union movement, the environmental movement, the anti-war movement during Vietnam. And I think what you’re seeing now is part of that longstanding tradition,” he said.
But Obama’s chief message was that the police must acquiesce to the main BLM claim that police are the problem.
“And if police organizations and departments acknowledge that there’s a problem and there’s an issue, then that, too, is going to contribute to real solutions,” Obama insisted. “And, as I said yesterday, that is what’s going to ultimately help make the job of being a cop a lot safer. It is in the interest of police officers that their communities trust them and that the kind of rancor and suspicion that exists right now is alleviated.”
Here is the full segment of Obama’s remarks in Spain:
With respect to your second question, one of the great things about America is that individual citizens and groups of citizens can petition their government, can protest, can speak truth to power. And that is sometimes messy and controversial. But because of that ability to protest and engage in free speech, America, over time, has gotten better. We’ve all benefited from that.
The abolition movement was contentious. The effort for women to get the right to vote was contentious and messy. There were times when activists might have engaged in rhetoric that was overheated and occasionally counterproductive. But the point was to raise issues so that we, as a society, could grapple with it. The same was true with the Civil Rights Movement, the union movement, the environmental movement, the anti-war movement during Vietnam. And I think what you’re seeing now is part of that longstanding tradition.
What I would say is this — that whenever those of us who are concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system attack police officers, you are doing a disservice to the cause. First of all, any violence directed at police officers is a reprehensible crime and needs to be prosecuted. But even rhetorically, if we paint police in broad brush, without recognizing that the vast majority of police officers are doing a really good job and are trying to protect people and do so fairly and without racial bias, if our rhetoric does not recognize that, then we’re going to lose allies in the reform cause.
Now, in a movement like Black Lives Matter, there’s always going to be some folks who say things that are stupid, or imprudent, or overgeneralized, or harsh. And I don’t think that you can hold well-meaning activists who are doing the right thing and peacefully protesting responsible for everything that is uttered at a protest site. But I would just say to everybody who’s concerned about the issue of police shootings or racial bias in the criminal justice system that maintaining a truthful and serious and respectful tone is going to help mobilize American society to bring about real change. And that is our ultimate objective.
Now, this week, people felt hurt and angry, and so some of this is just venting. But I think that the overwhelming majority of people who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, what they really want to see is a better relationship between the police and the community so that they can feel that it’s serving them. And the best way to do that is to bring allies forward. That means — that includes, by the way, the police departments that are doing the right thing, like Dallas, which has implemented the very reforms that Black Lives Matter has been seeking. That’s part of why it’s so tragic that those officers were targeted in Dallas, a place that is — because of its transparency and training and openness and engagement in the community — has drastically brought down the number of police shootings and complaints about misconduct.
The flip side of that — and this is the last point I’ll make — is just as my hope would be that everybody involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, or other civil rights organizations or who are protesting — just as I want all of them to maintain a respectful, thoughtful tone — because, as a practical matter, that’s what’s going to get change done — I would hope that police organizations are also respectful of the frustration that people in these communities feel and not just dismiss these protests and these complaints as political correctness, or as politics or attacks on police. There are legitimate issues that have been raised, and there’s data and evidence to back up the concerns that are being expressed by these protesters.
And if police organizations and departments acknowledge that there’s a problem and there’s an issue, then that, too, is going to contribute to real solutions. And, as I said yesterday, that is what’s going to ultimately help make the job of being a cop a lot safer. It is in the interest of police officers that their communities trust them and that the kind of rancor and suspicion that exists right now is alleviated.
So I’d like all sides to listen to each other. And that’s what we’ll hopefully be able to accomplish over the course of the next week and over the course of the remaining months that I’m President.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.