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by Peter Moskos

July 13, 2016

Obama's Dallas Memorial Speech

I like Obama (as do most Americans). And I know he couldn't win over all cops with his speech in Dallas at the memorial for Officers Zamarippa, Ahrens, Krol, Smith, and Thompson. I knew, and this turned out to be correct, that even before the speech was done Obama haters would find a line or two in his 4,000 words that "proved" Obama hates cops/whites/Christians/America or whatever. And of course Obama hatred immediately came through my facebook feed from the CAPLOCK-RIGHT. So that crowd will never like Obama. But I listened to his whole speech while walking around San Francisco. The text is here.

I really wanted a speech I could hold over the haters and say, see, despite your ideological blinders, Obama said exactly the things you say he never said. Except Obama didn't.

Mostly I was disappointed that Obama implied a morale comparison between the death of Anton Sterling and the murder of these five officers at whose memorial he was speaking.
I see people who have protested on behalf of criminal justice reform grieving alongside police officers. I see people who mourn for the five officers we lost, but also weep for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In this audience, I see what’s possible.

I see what’s possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment. All deserving equal respect. All children of God. That’s the America I know.
At this moment, I sincerely doubt the families of the slain officers give a damn about Anton Sterling. If you think those deaths are comparable, as some do, I respectfully disagree. But there's a time and place for everything. And this was neither the time nor the place. Obama mentioned Sterling and Castile's names more times than any of the murdered officers. This was a memorial service for police officers, not those killed by police.

That said, there were many good parts in Obama's speech that deserve highlighting:
Race relations have improved dramatically in my lifetime. Those who deny it are dishonoring the struggles that helped us achieve that progress.
That is quite a dig at protesters and lefties who deny the generally favorable arc of American history. And Obama keeps going:
When anyone, no matter how good their intentions may be, paints all police as biased, or bigoted, we undermine those officers that we depend on for our safety. And as for those who use rhetoric suggesting harm to police, even if they don’t act on it themselves, well, they not only make the jobs of police officers even more dangerous, but they do a disservice to the very cause of justice that they claim to promote.
Preach on, my president.
We also know what Chief Brown has said is true, that so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves.

As a society, we choose to under-invest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book. [Ed note: Even in Texas, the library does not loan free Glocks.]

And then we tell the police, “You’re a social worker; you’re the parent; you’re the teacher; you’re the drug counselor.” We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience; don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when periodically the tensions boil over.
That was probably the best part. Obama should have stopped right there.
Maybe the police officer sees his own son in that teenager with a hoodie, who’s kind of goofing off but not dangerous. And the teenager — maybe the teenager will see in the police officer the same words, and values and authority of his parents.
OK. But the kids-will-be-kids part is not the big problem of policing. That speaks to working and middle-class America. But what about the teenager who doesn't have parents? The kid who has nobody around of good values or authority? That is the problem. How are cops supposed to deal with armed young criminals? That's what I want the president to address. He didn't.

I wanted more from this speech. And I wanted the president to better honor the officers at whose memorial he was speaking.


john mosby said...

Compare his south Carolina funeral oration. There, he really made an effort to fit in, down to singing Amazing Grace. And it was an effort: He did not grow up in the AME church or in the AA community. His exposure to urban culture started in his late twenties. Yet he mastered the rhythm of a good old fashioned Southern preacher. Why? Because it mattered to him.

If it mattered to him, he could have really mastered the tone and tempo of a police memorial. He could have led the crowd in a jesse jackson-like call and response: "I AM - PO KROL!" "I AM - PO THOMPSON!", etc.

But he didn't.

Everyone, for and against him, knows he doesn't want urban youth to die - he didn't need to take this one more opportunity.

But he did.

Says a lot.


Andy D said...

Being not a knee-jerk Obama hater nor a member of the CAPSLOCK-RIGHT, but rather someone who disagrees politically with the President, I actually was hoping to see in this speech something that I have not seen in any of his comments on LE matters before. And I didn't see it at all.

This well-balanced, nuanced speech would have been great (and a big improvement over his previous comments on police and BLM) if it had been delivered a week ago in the Rose Garden or from the Oval Office. It was completely inappropriate at a memorial service for five of my murdered LEO family.

From Prof Gates "the Police acted stupidly" to using a LE memorial service to talk about Sterling and Catile, the POTUS has demonstrated quite clearly how he genuinely feels about law enforcement. I, for one, don't feel like I have any trouble knowing when he is forcing the words out (like when he said positive things about cops at this memorial) and when he is genuine and emotional (when saying that the police acted "stupidly" arresting Gates or that his child could be Trayvon Martin.) It is no wonder the LEO community feels disrespected by him. Because we are.

john mosby said...

Professor Gates, when asked to talk on the front porch so officers could conduct a constitutional protected sweep of the house, replied, "I'll talk to your mama on the front porch."

Somehow I don't think Professor Moskos would respond the same way if he'd just been caught forcing his own front door.


David Woycechowsky said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
aNanyMouse said...

Andy D & John, I’m with you.
And I’ll add, I could stand the references to Sterling, at some other occasion than a memorial for killed cops, if Obama had added references to how guys like Laquan, the Balt. Six, and Snowden get the roughest of rides, while folks like Rahm and Hillary get chauffeured.

Be born in the Projects, or grind it thru the Academy, and it’s all but Open Season on you, one way or the other.

But, be born in Kenilworth, or rise to become a Made Man or Woman, and you’re liable to get covered for (esp. by the Media), often with a Secret Service army keeping the Hinckleys and the Micah Johnsons away from you! At most, the wheels will pay lip service to dissing the worst of your conduct, but they’ll duck pressing for you to get the withering scrutiny to which beat cops are being subjected. Heads you win, tails they (beat cops, etc.) lose.

Moskos said...

We've discussed Gates enough when it happened: http://www.copinthehood.com/search/label/Henry%20Louis%20Gates%20Jr

It was a legal and stupid arrest. Both individuals could have taken the high road. Neither did. Any good officer would have followed any individual back into that house (so he doesn't run out the back door or come back with a gun). The cop wanted to arrest Gates because Gates, with some righteous justification, was being a jerk. Get into a pissing battle with a cop and the cop will win.

john mosby said...

I know you just said to stop talking about Gates, but I think you'll let this one slide:

As soon as I heard about the "mama" remark, I had the great idea for a talk show: "Skip Gates Talks to Your Mama on the Porch." The set would be a nice wraparound porch with a glider, etc, and Prof Gates would interview the mothers of famous people.

Never had the contacts to shop the concept.

Then a few years later, we get "Finding Your Roots with Skip Gates," in which he talks with famous people about their mothers and other ancestors.

Missed it by that much....


Moskos said...

That's a pretty fabulous idea!