President Obama held a town hall meeting in Washington on Thursday to discuss racism, police brutality, and the tragedy that left five Dallas police officers dead last week. While the hour-long event yielded few surprises and even fewer answers to the problems we’re facing domestically, there was one interesting moment that needs to be mentioned.
Present at the meeting was Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of Obama’s fiercest critics. Patrick let the president know that many in law enforcement did not “feel like you’re doing everything you can to protect their lives.”
He told Obama that “words matter.”
“I would ask you to consider being careful when there is an incident of not being too quick to condemn the police without due process and until the facts are known,” Patrick said.
Instead of taking this advice to heart, Obama put up his defenses and let his temper get the best of him. “I have been unequivocal in condemning any rhetoric directed at police officers,” Obama said. “Find any message that did not include a very strong support for law enforcement in all my utterances dating back to Ferguson, because I rely on law enforcement to protect me and my family.”
And that’s it. Right there. That’s the problem.
This isn’t about Obama specifically; this is about our entire “conversation” regarding race relations and the police. People on both sides keep saying we need to listen to each other…before revealing that, in practice, this actually means “the other side needs to start listening to me.”
Obama has been one of the chief proponents of listening to both sides of the argument, but he’s lousy at taking his own advice. In this instance, he didn’t even respond to what Patrick actually said. He heard what he wanted to hear – a strawman attack that he could easily swat away. Because yes, he’s right; he’s carefully plugged pro-police comments into most of his speeches on this issue. That has little to do with what Patrick was urging him to do: Withhold opinion on these videotaped shootings until an investigation has been completed. For that, Obama would not have quite the same defense.
So, naturally, he decided to spin the question into something else.
The problem with Obama isn’t that he goes out there and launches into tirades against the police; no one has ever accused him of such a thing. The problem is that he jumps on these cases before we know any of the facts, appoints himself the judge, and forgets that we have a thing called due process. This contributes to the atmosphere of mistrust and rage when grand juries decline to indict the cops. It creates a situation where it’s just a “matter of fact” that cops murder blacks and get away with it. You can’t diffuse that dangerous sentiment with some bland nonsense about the “vast majority of police officers.”
But he won’t hear that. He’ll only hear what he wants to hear.
And that’s why this conversation, so far, has been a sham.