Unrest Over Race Is Testing Obama’s Legacy

President Barack Obama announces executive actions on immigration during a nationally televised address from the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Obama outlined a plan on Thursday to relax U.S. immigration policy, affecting as many as 5 million people. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool)
President Barack Obama announces executive actions on immigration during a nationally televised address from the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. Obama outlined a plan on Thursday to relax U.S. immigration policy, affecting as many as 5 million people. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool)
President Barack Obama announces executive actions on immigration during a nationally televised address from the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool)

WASHINGTON (New York Times) — As crowds of people staged “die-ins” across the country last week to protest the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police officers, young African-American activists were in the Oval Office lodging grievances with President Obama.

He of all people — the first black president of the United States — was in a position to testify to the sense of injustice that African-Americans feel in dealing with the police every day, the activists told him. During the unrest that began with a teenager’s shooting in Ferguson, Mo., they hoped for a strong response. Why was he holding back?

Mr. Obama told the group that change is “hard and incremental,” a participant said, while reminding them that he had once been mistaken for a waiter and parking valet. When they said their voices were not being heard, Mr. Obama replied, “You are sitting in the Oval Office, talking to the president of the United States.”

For Rasheen Aldridge Jr., 20, a community organizer from St. Louis who attended the meeting, it was not enough. “It hurt that he didn’t seem to want to go out there and acknowledge that he understands our pain,” Mr. Aldridge said in an interview. “It would be a great mark on his presidential legacy if he would come out and touch an issue that everyone is scared to touch.”

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