President Obama sat down with BET for an interview that aired yesterday, his first interview since a grand jury refused to indict a New York policeman who killed Eric Gardner.
“This country is at its best when everybody is being treated fairly. We have a history and a legacy of people not being treated fairly in all kinds of walks of life,” he said during the 30-minute special, “A Conversation with President Barack Obama.”
“It is particularly important for people to feel like they’re being treated fairly by law enforcement and police, because the consequences when they’re not treated fairly can be deadly.”
Obama also discussed the police. “The vast majority of law enforcement officers are doing a really tough job, and most of them are doing it well and are trying to do the right thing. But a combination of bad training, in some cases, a combination in some cases of departments that really are not trying to root out biases, or tolerate sloppy police work; a combination in some cases of folks just not knowing any better, and in a lot of cases, subconscious fear of folks who look different — all of this contributes to a national problem that’s going to require a national solution.”
The president reinforced a twisted form of racial justice, seeing the need to point out that people were disturbed by the Garner video “even if they haven’t had that same experience themselves, even if they’re not African-American or Latino.”
Obama told BET that his own experiences as a youth lead him to try to improve race relations as a politician. (The public disagrees with him on this point, with a majority saying race relations have worsened under the president.)
“My mind went back to what it was like for me when I was 17, 18, 20,” Obama said, recalling a meeting with a group of civil rights activists targeted by police because of their race. “And as I told them, not only do I hear the pain and frustration of being subjected to that kind of constant suspicion, but part of the reason I got into politics was to figure out how can I bridge some of those gaps and understanding so that the larger country understands this is not just a black problem or a brown problem, this is an American problem.”