Ferguson: The issue Obama must tackle is white control in black areas

 

Share

The violence in Ferguson is small beer compared to the 1965 conflagration in Watts, the rioting that swept US cities after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, and the Los Angeles riots of 1992 after the acquittal of white police officers charged with beating-up the black motorist Rodney King.

But the flare-up after the shooting of the unarmed student Michael Brown by a white police officer, constitutes the biggest race relations test for America’s first black president since he took power. And in contrast with his previous forays onto this treacherous terrain, Barack Obama is displaying a caution that is disappointing some black opinion here.

Why, these critics ask, is he not planning a visit to Ferguson himself? Instead he is dispatching Attorney General Eric Holder to the St Louis suburb today. And why has Mr Obama not condemned the behaviour of the police more forcefully?

Instead the President, in his most extensive remarks on the subject on Monday, urged all parties to “seek understanding, rather than just hollering at each other.”

He did criticise the police and said he understood the anger at Mr Brown’s death among African-Americans. But, Mr Obama added, “giving in to that anger by looting or carrying guns and even attacking the police, only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos”.

That dry, almost scripted, response contrasts with his reaction to other recent racial incidents that have made headlines – above all the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch officer, on murder and manslaughter charges after he shot Trayvon Martin, another unarmed black teenager, on a Florida estate in 2012.

“If I had a son, he’d look like that… Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago,” Mr Obama said then, explaining the deep resentment at what had happened: “there are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.”

But in the case of Michael Brown, the President has injected no such personal feelings. There are of course major differences. Then, Mr Obama was speaking after the legal resolution of the Zimmerman case. This time, the Ferguson investigation is barely started, with the most basic facts in dispute. All the more reason therefore, why Mr Obama should be studiously even-handed.

Bear in mind too that this black president has been burnt before when he waded into a racial controversy. After the 2009 arrest of the black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, at his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home, Mr Obama criticised police handling of the affair - only to stir a firestorm among police organisations, who claimed he had misrepresented the facts.

This time the President is, above all, seeking not to inflame matters, and thus leave himself room to tackle the issue at the heart of the Ferguson confrontation: the enduring white control of politics and the police in a predominately black town.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor