SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) President Obama — in his first televised interview since a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict the New York cop who killed Eric Garner — said Monday that “bad training” and a “fear of folks who look different” in a small number of police departments across the U.S. have contributed to the ongoing mistrust between law enforcement and minority communities.
“The vast majority of law enforcement officers are doing a really tough job, and most of them are doing it well and are trying to do the right thing,” Obama said during a one-on-one interview with BET Networks that aired Monday. “But a combination of bad training, in some cases, a combination in some cases of departments that really are not trying to root out biases, or tolerate sloppy police work; a combination in some cases of folks just not knowing any better, and in a lot of cases, subconscious fear of folks who look different — all of this contributes to a national problem that’s going to require a national solution.”
“This country is at its best when everybody is being treated fairly. We have a history and a legacy of people not being treated fairly in all kinds of walks of life,” he said during the 30-minute special, titled “A Conversation with President Barack Obama.” “It is particularly important for people to feel like they’re being treated fairly by law enforcement and police, because the consequences when they’re not treated fairly can be deadly.”
The comments represent some of Obama’s most explicit thoughts yet in the weeks and months since grand juries refused to return indictments in the deaths of Eric Garner, in Staten Island, and Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo. — both black males killed by white police officers.
However, Garner’s death, unlike Brown’s, was captured on video — providing access to images that Obama said “troubled” many Americans, “even if they haven’t had that same experience themselves, even if they’re not African-American or Latino.”
“I think there are a lot of good, well-meaning people, I think there are probably a lot of police officers who might have looked at that and said, that is a tragedy what happened, and we’ve got to figure out how to bring an end to these kinds of tragedies,” he said.
Obama also revealed that he himself had troubling experiences as young black man that helped mold his desire to bring about improvements in race relations.
“My mind went back to what it was like for me when I was 17, 18, 20,” Obama said, referring to his thoughts after meeting with a group of civil rights activists who had been targeted by police on account of their race. “And as I told them, not only do I hear the pain and frustration of being subjected to that kind of constant suspicion, but part of the reason I got into politics was to figure out how can I bridge some of those gaps and understanding so that the larger country understands this is not just a black problem or a brown problem, this is an American problem.”
Obama, nevertheless, stressed that “progress has been made” when it comes to combating racism in the U.S.
“Things are better. Not good, in some cases, but better,” he said. “And the reason it’s important for us to understand progress has been made is that then gives up hope that we can make even more progress.”