In his speech last week, Obama talked about negative experiences of African-Americans and the historic setting “of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws.” But he also acknowledged that “African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system … (as) both victims and perpetrators of violence.” And he said the black community is “not naïve in understanding that … somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.”
Obama raised a good question: “How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?”
First, he said, “I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.”
Second, he said, “I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if … they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case.” He questioned “if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation.”
Third, Obama said, “a long-term project,” is the “need to spend some time thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys” who “are getting a lot of negative reinforcement.” He said he could use his convening power to “gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African-American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed.”
It seems to me that the idea of more training for law enforcement misses the point, but no doubt local police departments could use more federal funds for training. As for the issue of “stand your ground” laws in Florida and 20 other states, the people of those states approved those laws. Let them decide if they want to change them.
To the third point, it would be good if Obama and others concerned about young black men would focus on family-building, education, responsibility development and job creation for this group: 28 percent of black adults ages 16 to 24 are unemployed. And the jobless rate for young black male high school dropouts ages 16-25 is a staggering 51.6 percent, per analysis by remappingdebate.org.
Convening meetings will not fix these problems, Mr. President. There are no “pathways and avenues to succeed” without education, responsibility and a job.