President Obama, once tight-lipped about the volatile situation in Ferguson, Mo., has been speaking out a bit more in recent days, changing his approach to the conflict and unrest there nearly two months after the shooting of Michael Brown.
In a few different forums in recent days, Obama has mentioned the situation. He has done so even as there is clearly little political benefit to doing so -- and more likely, a bigger downside.
First, he riled conservatives by citing Ferguson in his United Nations speech as an example of America's imperfections. Then, this past weekend at the Congressional Black Caucus event, Obama sounded a somewhat different note from his earlier comments on Ferguson.
He said before that "sentencing may be different ... how trials are conducted may be different," when it comes to African Americans in the criminal justice system.
On Saturday, he was bolder and more unequivocal: "We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities. That’s just the statistics."
As with all politicians, Obama speaks differently in front of different crowds. But on Ferguson, he seems to see something of an inflection point that he can keep coming back to and use to make broader points about race, racism and the criminal justice system. He went on to talk about his My Brother's Keeper initiative, which on Tuesday is officially launching an effort to encourage cities and towns to implement "coherent cradle-to-college and career strategy aimed at improving life outcomes for all young people."
Talking about Ferguson is not without its risks. There is, after all, a huge racial and partisan disparity in how Americans view what happened there. And Obama has taken care to avoid even the appearance of siding with his fellow Democrats or African Americans.
But he now seems to be more comfortable, with a few more weeks passing since the worst unrest, talking more broadly about how a racially skewed criminal justice system is not just a black problem, but an American one.
Here's more from his Saturday remarks:
And that has a corrosive effect -- not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America. It harms the communities that need law enforcement the most. It makes folks who are victimized by crime and need strong policing reluctant to go to the police because they may not trust them. And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children. It scars the hearts of the white kids who grow unnecessarily fearful of somebody who doesn’t look like them. It stains the heart of black children who feel as if no matter what he does, he will always be under suspicion. That is not the society we want. It’s not the society that our children deserve. Whether you’re black or white, you don’t want that for America.