Start anew with Ferguson

Start anew with Ferguson

August 22nd, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Even those people who didn't vote for Barack Obama in 2008 had hoped some things about race relations might change for the better.

The national media, who championed his election, crowed that he would be the first post-racial president, that his mere presence in office would tamp down racial strife in the country, that his soaring leadership would overcome any differences.

Some of us who didn't believe one man could change all that overnight held a more realistic, hopeful view -- that President Obama could use his election as the first black president to be a father or big brother to young black men across the country who lived for gun violence, who clung to gangs to get the love they never found at home and who killed each other in numbers that grew each year.

If a message to stop warring brother against brother became an overarching theme, if he touched on it everywhere he went, if he spun a companion message of the possibility of hope and change and a better life, then after four or eight years, if things had changed for young black men, then policy issues on which we had disagreements with him would at least be tempered.

Sad to say, of course, that Obama did not follow that line of thinking. While he has broached the subject occasionally during more than five and a half years in office, he has not made these young men a priority. So black-on-black gun crime, black unemployment and black gang involvement remain unacceptably high.

Which brings us to Ferguson, Mo., where a personal visit to the St. Louis suburb to call for calm from all parties after a young black man was shot by a white policeman and where a re-start to better race relations in general might have been crafted.

Instead, Obama interrupted his vacation long enough to return to Washington, D.C., last week for a brief statement about the Middle East, then headed back to the links on Martha's Vineyard.

In his stead, he sent his divisive attorney general, Eric Holder, who proceeded to tell already agitated residents about his perception of being profiled and "how angry I was."

That came in the wake of the arrival of the usual helpful guests, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who fan racial flames with gasoline. To wit, Jackson called the Ferguson shooting a "state execution," and Sharpton said police were "at war with ... citizens."

The problem is, as the days roll by since Michael Brown's death, the truth looks less and less like what Jackson, Sharpton and protesters who arrived from New York, California, Texas, Illinois, Alabama and Iowa maintain it was.

Two autopsies suggest the young man was shot from the front, not in the back as he supposedly ran from the police officer, as had been claimed. And now more sources are coming forward, backing the officer's statements that Brown had tried to grab his service revolver and punched him in the face.

Investigations, if not already tainted, eventually may sort out the truth. But the incident was another lost opportunity for Obama to play a role that only the first black president could play.

History, though, shows the president has been unwilling to make measured comments over similar incidents.

In 2009, when black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested while trying to break into his own house, the president admitted he knew none of the facts but proclaimed "the Cambridge [Mass.] police acted stupidly."

And in 2012, after black teenager Trayvon Martin was shot in Sanford, Fla., he opined that "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago," and "if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

Mr. President, it's still not too late. Put up your putter, go to Missouri and start a healing conversation. Don't empathize, don't accuse. Say you want the facts to come out, wherever they lead.

Then begin a strategy that marks your last two years in which black-on-black shootings -- there were 26 in your home of Chicago alone on the weekend Brown was shot -- decline because the black man in the White House has made it his priority. It could be

your legacy.