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Many in Black America have long complained that when President Barack Obama was in office, he didn’t do enough or speak out enough for Black America. Obama now claims that institutional constraints prevented him from commenting on killings of Black Americans during his time in the White House, The Hill reported.
Obama’s foundation, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, recently hosted a forum with Obama participating in a panel discussion on the activism triggered by the May 25, 2020 police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.
During Obama’s tenure in the White House, there were several high-profile killings of African Americans involving law enforcement, including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Alton Sterling. At the time, many wanted Obama to express outrage and to take action. During the forum, Obama blamed institutional constraints, saying he didn’t do so because he didn’t want to interfere with the Justice Department’s investigations into the cases.
“I did not in any way want to endanger their capacity to go in, investigate and potentially charge perpetrators, which meant that I could not come down or appear to come down decisively in terms of guilt or innocence,” Obama said.
He added, “Keep in mind, in 2012, I won. But I didn’t win congressmen, and we didn’t win a bunch of governorships back. We didn’t win a bunch of state legislators back. And so, all the reform initiatives that we were coming up with and the ideas that had been generated, we weren’t able to translate into as bold a set of initiatives as I would have wanted.”
Some on Twitter weren’t buying Obama’s institutional constraints explanation.
“Obama says ‘I was a well paid stand-in for white supremacy, gained power and celebrity and couldn’t give 2 fucks,'” Kamau Franklin @kamaufranklin tweeted.
NorbOdero @NorbAwino tweeted, “He was corporate. No corporate can be a revolutionary. He loved his money.”
Iqbal Bhawana @iqbalbhawana commented, “He did nothing for blacks and oppressed Palestinians and Kashmiris suffering under the yoke of occupation.A great disappointment indeed. History will not be kind to him. You can forgive him for doing nothing in first term due to constraints but he had nothing to lose in 2nd term.”
When he did speak out, Obama was seen by many as patronizing to Black America.
In 2015, several leading Black Democrats expressed outrage at Obama’s conclusion that “thugs” were protesting in Baltimore over the death of a Black man while in the custody of city police.
Obama called the protesters “criminals and thugs who tore up” Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death. Maryland officials later concluded Gray’s death was a homicide committed by six police officers who went on to face murder charges.
“After Gray’s death, thousands of protestors took to the streets of Baltimore to protest the police’s initial handling of the case. Those protests turned violent …following Gray’s funeral, with cars set ablaze, businesses looted and burned,” The Hill reported. The National Guard was called to maintain order. More than a dozen police officers were hospitalized.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) denounced the president’s language.
One of Obama’s toughest critics was Dorothy Tillman, a civil rights activist and former alderman of Chicago’s 3rd Ward, who was in office from 1985 through 2007. A Democrat, Tillman called out Obama often, especially after he entered the White House.
“Now the truth of the matter is … President Obama is not addressing the Black Agenda. President Obama have been told that it’s alright not to address our agenda. They said if you don’t address it don’t worry about it because they gon’ be quiet,” Tillman said in 2010 during talk show host Tavis Smiley’s Black Agenda Forum.
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Obama has typically shied away from committing to reparations for Black America. While a candidate for the Oval Office, he said in 2008 that instead of cash reparations, the government should instead combat the legacy of slavery by improving schools, healthcare, and the economy for all, Boston.com reported.
“I have said in the past, and I’ll repeat again, that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed,” the then-Illinois senator said.
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