Ferguson, Obama and justice [Updated]

Like everyone else these days in the media, I watched President Obama’s statement on Iraq and Ferguson while simultaneously monitoring the reaction on Twitter. He was hammered right and left. General consensus: He seemed tired, passionless, overly measured and vague. He obviously wanted to talk about Iraq more than Ferguson — because there was good news on the one front (retaking the Mosul dam) and nothing good to report on the other.

Those with a temperate mindset will be sympathetic to the president’s dilemma in talking about the Ferguson situation, since, as he noted, his people at the Justice Department are actively investigating the shooting and could potentially bring federal charges against the police officer for violating Michael Brown’s civil rights. But there’s no question that Obama didn’t sound much like the guy who, in the past, has spoken so eloquently about these highly charged and sensitive cultural moments. He did little to address the profound anger of people who feel that Michael Brown was shot for “walking while black.”

Remember the Philadelphia speech? Obama’s eulogy in Tucson? Obama should consider another such national address. Obviously there’s no magic verbal balm that can heal all the hurt and quell all the rage that has been generated in that St. Louis suburb. But I’d hate to see the president race back to the golf course. Obama runs the risk of furthering the narrative that his heart is not in the job anymore — that he’s already thinking ahead to retirement. He’s the president and this is happening on his watch. No one scheduled this crisis — that’s how crises are.

There’s a bunch of great coverage and commentary in the paper today. Start with Gene Robinson’s column on the deeper issues that won’t go away and that transcend this particular tragedy in Ferguson.

Here’s the main story recapping events yesterday and early this morning. There’s also a terrific piece on the front page about the taxonomy of the protesters: Some are local, some from out of town, some bent on turning this into a revolution. There are Occupy folks showing up.

This is growing daily — Ferguson as a national destination.

To be continued …

Update: The Los Angeles Times has a story in which the White House explains why the president seems to be walking on eggshells when talking about Ferguson: “White House officials argued that in a nation polarized on racial issues — and deeply split about the president — strong language from Obama about the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the protests and looting in Ferguson, Mo., would risk worsening the problem rather than making it better.”

See also this explainer from Ezra Klein (channeling WH): “There probably won’t be another Race Speech because the White House doesn’t believe there can be another Race Speech. For Obama, the cost of becoming president was sacrificing the unique gift that made him president.” (Okay, but sometimes leadership means taking a chance and running a risk and not paying attention to the polls–JA).

And Ta-Nehisi Coates has an essay in The Atlantic explaining, among other things, why African Americans aren’t eager to call the cops when they see a street disturbance: “Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends—destruction of the body.”

 

 

 

 

 

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Joel Achenbach · August 15