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.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.
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.
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.That was probably the best part. Obama should have stopped right there.
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.
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.