Why would President Barack Obama nominate a man to a top security post who, by the President’s own standard, would have profiled him as a potential criminal on the streets of New York City as a younger man? And by implication, why does he endorse the idea that it’s fine for cops to randomly stop and frisk people based on their race, but that it’s a civil rights crime if a private citizen on neighborhood watch patrol might have done the same thing?
The President’s nomination of New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to replace departed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano came only days before Obama joined his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, along with friends in the entertainment industry and the NAACP, in the public immolation of an exonerated George Zimmerman.
For the Left, Zimmerman is a dead-horse straw man target, an involuntary Bull Connor figure who ought to be receiving royalty payments from people like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Jay-Z — and now Obama – who have ridden his unassuming coattails to a re-emergence as race-baiting firebrands whose relevance depends on how successful they are at bringing out the worst in the characters of uninformed people. Obama seized an opportunity to do just that, telling the Nation: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
The President’s July 19 comments are actually remarkable for the extent to which they betray Obama’s dismissal of black-on-black violence (blame history), his self-identity (our President is, first and foremost, a “hyphen”-American who’s been feared by white women on the street) and, most tellingly, his propensity to group people into a racial category and proceed to speak for their behaviors, beliefs and feelings (“black folks interpret…understand…get frustrated…”):
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.
And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear. The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.
I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys. But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied.
Like Sharpton and Jackson, Obama is now speaking on behalf of American blacks, a gesture he knows automatically implies a divisive wedge that exempts one American from believing he shares — and that he should share — common ground with another. That’s vile, especially coming from the elected leader of the free world.
Equally vile is the brazen hypocrisy of burnishing the reputation of Kelly. With vocal support from otherwise-liberal New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Kelly has expanded the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” practice into a racial profiling juggernaut, requiring street cops to randomly pick out black and Hispanic individuals because they’re black and Hispanic and to frisk them without probable cause that they’re involved in anything criminal. Bloomberg notoriously said last month that the cops were stopping too many white people and not enough minorities — even though minorities comprise nearly 90 percent of all NYPD stops.
For Reason’s Jacob Sullum, something in Obama’s Janus-like positions on Zimmerman and Kelly doesn’t gibe:
The juxtaposition of [the President’s] comments suggests Obama would rather attack an easy target than confront issues with much clearer implications for equality under the law.
In contrast with Zimmerman, who has never been credibly accused of shooting Martin because of his race, Kelly is named in a federal lawsuit that charges the NYPD with routinely violating the Fourth and 14th Amendments through a program of street stops that target blacks or Hispanics 87 percent of the time. The number of such stops septupled during Kelly’s first nine years as Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s police commissioner…
… As Obama noted on Friday, “there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws—everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.” In New York City under Ray Kelly, that history is still being made.