Barack Obama Has Failed Us All With His Ferguson Speech

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It’s been almost a week since a Ferguson police officer murdered unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, and since then, the community of Ferguson has been besieged by police forces, armed more appropriately for a military invasion than for the supervision of peaceful protests. Tear gas canisters have been launched into residents’ front yards. Rubber bullets have been shot into crowds. Sniper rifles have been aimed at countless young men with their arms in the air. Journalists have been harassed and unjustly arrested. And through it all, Obama remained silent. An American city continues to be under siege, and the president had nothing to say until today, when, perhaps predictably, he made a statement that didn’t say very much at all, or at least, nothing really worth saying.

From his Martha’s Vineyard vacation spot, Obama addressed the murder of Michael Brown and the ongoing chaos in Missouri, in a way that seemed designed not to inspire during these troubled times, but to appease those who might view any forthright presidential rhetoric as being divisive or inflammatory. So rather than condemn the fact that police have invaded the streets of Ferguson with military tanks and weapons, Obama declared, “There is never an excuse for violence against the police.” Rather than unequivocally state that the police have been engaging in illegal actions by threatening and jailing journalists, Obama simply said, “Police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs.” Rather than say that Michael Brown was gunned down in the streets, Obama used a passive voice to say, “We lost a young man.” And finally, the president invoked the idea that we all share a common cause, namely because, “We’re all part of one American family. We’re united in common values and that includes equality under the law.”

There’s no real reason for Obama to equivocate in this manner. He’s not running for re-election. Now is not a time to placate, rather it is a time to inspire. Instead, we get empty sentiments attempting to bring people together by reminding us that we all belong to the same family and share common values. But if anything should be clear by now, this family is hopelessly divided and not only doesn’t share common values, but also doesn’t share common treatment under the law. The police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown still benefits from a cloak of anonymity, designed to protect him from any retributive acts. Where was Michael Brown’s protection? Where is the protection for the people of Ferguson who are collectively being treated as dangerous criminals, even if few of them have done anything but peacefully protest the unjust killing of an unarmed teenager?

President Obama had an opportunity today (and yesterday and the day before and the day before that) to address the horrific reality of what is going on in Ferguson right now, but he failed to take it. Instead he gave lip service to things like peace and justice, forgetting the words of  Martin Luther King Jr, “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.” There will be no peace for the people of Ferguson, or for any of the people in this country, until justice is done not only in the case of Michael Brown, but also in the systemic racial inequalities in this country that are perpetuated by participating in the myth that we are all part of one American family. The people of Ferguson deserve better than this type of pointless speech, as do all the people of America.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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  1. Know what inspires me? Courage. A backbone to stand up for what’s right, not what’s convenient or self-serving. This article was inspiring.

    • Yes, the people are frustrated, but this article is merely a grumble, a scream. Ironically adds nothing to the situation, which the author accuses of the president’s stance.

      The president’s speech holds true as more information rolls out, whether its the robbery, the ID of the officer responsible for the outburst. Have to be careful as journalists to collect both sides of the spectrum before making a move- hence you’ll never see these articles get pass the editor. I’m sure the author is working on an addendum to this piece, as it became quickly outdated with Ferguson PD’s announcement.

      Regardless of the added information, the crowd’s sentiment towards the police still holds true.
      Yes, we are frustrated. Act, but this article was a swing and a miss.

  2. But President Obama issued a statement earlier this week. What did you want him to do other than what he has? He directed the Justice Dept to look into on Sunday….This article is nonsensical

  3. Oh for fuck’s sake – what a bullshit piece of stupidity! Sorry, Ms. Iverson, but Mr. Obama is President of the entire United States of America, not just your fantasy version of it. And the real America also encompasses cops and police unions and lots of people who don’t necessarily agree with your point of view. Instead of pillorying the President for not fulfilling all your wishes, and accusing him of “equivocating”; why don’t you praise him for a balanced and measured speech that dispenses with cheap internet histrionics and the kind of knee-jerk emotional pandering that you and your click-baiting ilk wallow in? In other words, GROW THE FUCK UP! The President’s bully pulpit is a lot bigger and more powerful than yours – and with that power comes REAL responsibility. His words were appropriate and well-balanced and nobody cares if it satisfies your hysterical requirements. Moreover, you should be ashamed of yourself for the inflammatory and irresponsibly provocative language you used in this piece – especially your repeating of the big lie that “police have invaded the streets of Ferguson with military tanks and weapons”. That’s a blatant falsehood. A tank is a very specific military weapon – and the up-armored personnel carriers that police are using are NOT tanks. You’re a shitty journalist who repeats falsehoods gleaned from the internet without doing any research or reporting of your own to verify facts and you should be ashamed of yourself. Better still, you should shut the fuck up and stop second-guessing the President already. People like YOU are why the center cannot hold. People like YOU are why we can’t have nice things. You seriously need to sit down, shut up and examine your conscience and think about what you’re putting out into the world. Barrack Obama owes you NOTHING – but you owe him and your readers a very real apology.

    • Though I have been disturbed by the continuing militarization of our police forces, and believe the British model to be more conducive to civility, I find myself agreeing with your passionate lambasting of this piece of “journalism”. I wonder if the author has been within 100 miles of Ferguson, because this is nothing but emotion-inducing sound bites with a salt of teenage angst.

    • @nunyadam bizness Obama firstly owes everyone something, their “Hope” back, along with millions of wasted dollars. Yes he may have a large responsibility with all of this power he withholds but come on, if he used common sense a little; he may be able to handle the responsibility. Justice needs to be had. You think he is making all of these decisions by himself? He doesn’t run the county, money does.

      If there was no outside pressure or influence (from the money holders) on being the president maybe something could have happened in his terms. But all he is, is a monkey having decisions made for him; along with being allowed to do a couple things he wants to on the bill of the American people.

      I wouldn’t expect you to understand the government of today since you are obviously brainwashed into thinking you can trust the government. It is obvious that a new government needs to rise up that is based on the American principles. But that is obviously not going to happen until something drastic happens to the politicians that are just money hungry.

  4. Ugh. Speak for yourself. I thought his comments were perfectly appropriate and well-balanced. Remember, it’s still an election year and the Dems depend on the support and endorsement of police unions in a lot of close races. If Obama comes out breathing fire against the police, it could cost his party both houses of Congress. Your political naivete is embarrassing. Grow up.

  5. Bullshit! He did exactly what was required. He’s not the problem. The more you focus on non-issues, the more you take the heat off of the people who deserve scrutinity . You want a hug from the president; he’s giving you action. Stop.

  6. I so disagree. President Obama is already juggling a bigoted and obstructionist Congress, and conflicts in Iraq (that were initiated by the last president) and the Middle East, and trying to deal with the illegal immigrant children explosion, and being sued for doing the job that Congress won’t, and getting the economy back on track (that was ruined by the last president) and get jobs bills passed (blocked by Congress), and push for raising the minimum wage (blocked by Congress). And he’s one calm dude. His eyes have been on the situation; his Attorney General is already leading an investigation; once the local authorities exposed themselves as thugs, he called Gov. Nixon and the local PD was replaced. You may not see the photo op you want, but this guy gets things done and sees the inequal treatment that exists. He’s working hard to change what he can. Why don’t you run for local office and get involved in making changes in your community? ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL. The criticism is fine; how about some action? It takes more than one person, even if he is the President of the United States, to make changes. We don’t live in a dictatorship. Get involved and encourage others to do the same. That’s my two cents.

    • Obama is exactly why the jobs are far and few between nancy,,,, with his global warming theory ,,,, and that’s all it is is theory without facts,,, his reg are strangling the factory’s in this country, not to mention if he does in fact shut down the coal industry, the thousands and thousands of people and family’s he will destroy and put out of work…. Stop listening to CNN nancy and use your brain and look around

  7. President Obama did with no other president has ever done, he talked about the issue as it was occurring. In every other case, when a President finally did address the issue, it was at least a year later and after the perpetrators had been release after a show trial (Bill Clinton a year later after Amadou Diallo perpetrators found not guilty, Jimmy Carter a year later and after the riots started when Arthur McDuffie was killed, George H Bush, after the trail in the Rodney King case……) . This President, in the moment, addressed the issue and directed his Justice Department to become involved in the beginning. Do you want a speech after the fact or do you want a just process from the beginning. I will take the process, it last longer and has better results.

  8. Wow. So you write an article claiming he isn’t doing anything (even though he made a statement earlier this week), then when he makes another statement, you blast him for it. Op-eds are awesome army they? Let me call news corp for you, you clearly are training to be head writer on fox and friends.

  9. I was very surprised to see this from Brooklyn Magazine, unless of course your research department or perhaps this specific contributor have been made aware (first hand) of facts surrounding this unfortunate incident that have not yet been released to any other sources.

    The readers of Brooklyn Magazine deserve better than this type of pointless article…

  10. The President did NOT fail us – at all. I heard his statement; it was accurate, restrained and pointed. EXCELLENT job Mr. President. Barack Hussein Obama, like most rational folks (what few of us are left) realizes that there is a much much bigger problem at stake here and a soundbite is worthless demagoguery. Michael Brown’s life was not lost in vain. And thank you Ferguson militarized police force for showing us what you got. WE, as a nation are a militant aggressive society. WE vote in the majority across all 50 states (those that do) every year for folks to bring us a militarized aggressive war machine mentality. In the most liberal state in the union, officers in our jails act and behave like the officers in Missouri. And MOST all of New York supported the invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Stop blaming the police. WE ARE THE POLICE. As a nation, we want guns on our nightstands, in our classrooms, in our parks, in our churches. WE, as a nation, voted for The Truth in Sentencing Act, Right Wind Republican Welfare Reform, AND the Iraq War. WE vote for troops on the border. WE vote for troops in Iraq. We vote for troops in Ukraine. And yes, in NYC WE vote for metal detectors in classrooms and defendants in shackles while standing before judges. Yes. WE. Take responsibility for yourself and your neighbor. Or nothing will ever change.

    President Barack Hussein Obama is the president of ALL the people. The brilliant, the stupid, the average, the pained, the liberal, the conservative – all of us. The day Americans of all ideological persuasions stop looking for their ideological messiah in their leader – that will be the day something gets done right.


  11. Oh yeah – and by the way – even though I obviously disagree with your point of view…it’s brilliant. Yes, I can disagree with you and still tip my hat to a patriot. Keep up the good work.


    • I am on the fence with this issue…
      But wow, you are amazing! very few people show respect for some ones opinion they don’t agree with! #Applause

  12. Ms. Iverson is off the mark on this one. President Obama has been held to a ridiculous standard since he got in to office. Half of the country hates him and half thinks he never speaks out enough. Let’s all remember the outcomes from all of the other times he’s attempted to speak out about race. It didn’t go so well except perhaps for the speech he gave that saved is candidacy in 2008. Perhaps Ms. Iverson should get out her chair, get a ticket to Missouri and do some real reporting instead of the armchair quarterbacking and CNN-fact checking so many ‘journalist’ millennials seem to practice.

  13. I appreciate this sentiment but feel that it is misguided. The POTUS position carries an immense responsibility and this requires a balancing act. Acknowledging that something terrible happened but not placing blame before an investigation has been concluded is his responsibility as his word carries enormous weight. I’m sure that one thing weighing on the conscience of any US leader with power is the Harlem riots of 1964 – violence begetting violence does not help anyone or improve any situation. Why do you think the identity of the offending police officer needs to be released before justice is done? What good do you think that would do as far as meting out justice? Do you think that if the name isn’t released, that the police department and the justice department won’t feel pressure to bring this person to justice? What would happen to their family, do you think? Their neighbors, and friends, or fellow police officers? Obama, instead of pointing the finger at one person or a group of persons and decrying their actions, has taken this chance to try and reinforce the values we should be embracing as a democracy, while acknowledging that wrong has been done, and taking action to right it. And yes, I’ve dealt with corrupt police forces – I don’t have total faith in the system. I also don’t expect the POTUS to publicly bash a service institution based on the actions of one individual, potentially inciting riots and further racial devisions in our society.

  14. Statism has killed more people on the planet than anything else, and created more chaos than anything else, it its wars to cover the planet with rival states. And yet people thrive inspite of it being everywhere, not because of it.

    Anarchists have killed very few people, and then it was an attempt to remove an absolute tyrant and despot in power.

    Still you people beleive government is good, when its demonstrated time and time again, it is the enemy of humanity. You believe anarchy is chaos, when really, chaos is a fail state gone bad and the power vacuum contest that results.

    The only good government is no government at all. Because every government, no matter how minimal, or how limited by checks and balances, is always subverted from within to become a police state.

  15. What do people really want President Obama to say? This article is wrong on many levels by making it seem like Obama has done nothing for the black community. I guess free health care, forgiveness of student loans, extentions of unemployment and countless of other things isn’t enough. I am angry that Michael brown got gunned down by the police, but what can black people do to stop the violence as a whole. A white guy can kill a black man and its world wide news but black on black crime isn’t important enough to march about, protesting and making it worldwide news. Its not Obama fault Michael brown is dead and his speech wasn’t going to bring him back.

  16. I don’t think it was murder. I certainly don’t put any faith in the witness. I guess we are supposed to pretend that horrible video of this young peaceful gentle giant doesn’t exist and automatically accept the version of the witness friends and not the police. Typical overreaction from the community intent on being once again “:victims of the white man” and pulling race accusations out of the air.

  17. This topic is a joke,,,,,,, Obama should have never opened his mouth on this subject as it is a law enforcement issue, however with the uncontrolable riots and looting, it is the same situation now…… It’s very simple, this young man, but yet large man! Comited strong arm robbery, attacked a police officer and was shot and killed…. NOT MURDERED ! And to show the community response! Riots, looting, burning and killing of there own community members!
    Obama cannot fix this issue, he is not a magician,,,,, the only people that can fix that community are the ones teaching there sons and daughters to pillage among there own people and community when they feel they are above the law.!
    You want to fix ferguson ! It starts at birth,,, teach your children and not abandon them
    Life is simple and rewarding ,,,,, it has nothing to do with color,,,,, teach your children right for god sake

  18. The racial discrimination is at an all time high because of you, Barack Obama. Your speech is one sided. We can read between the lines and what you are not saying.. Why didn’t you tell them to stop! There is no work to do you fool. The only work i see needs to be done is get rid of Affirmative Action. ..accept there are some black people who you have given a green light to. There was a white kid killed by a black officer a week after Michael Brown. No coverage! Tell your extremist Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson types to stand down!