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