President Obama held a nationally televised town hall last week to address heightened tensions and divisions in our society due to recent shootings of black criminals by police, and the recent shootings of police officers in Dallas. Just days after the event, three police officers in Baton Rouge were assassinated, further highlighting the high stakes for how the president handles this issue.
I was invited to attend last week’s town hall and ask the president a question, but ultimately could not make it. But I did watch it at home, and would like to highlight some key points President Obama did not to make, which could have begun the process of healing and reconciliation.
Indeed, Sunday’s execution of three police officers in Baton Rouge shows what can happen when the president creates an atmosphere of racial victimization and blames police. So it is critical that Obama develops a new message that takes us in the right direction before things get worse and there’s another incident.
With that in mind, here are the statements President Obama should have included in his remarks last week.
1. ‘We Must, Must, Must Reduce the Black Crime Rate’
The black crime rate is significantly higher than that of other races. Yes, some would claim this is due to institutionalized racism or a lack of job opportunities. However, black crime was much lower in past eras when discrimination against black people was much higher, and the economic position of black people was much worse, than today. So that can be no excuse.
President Obama should have talked about how the overall crime rate for black people is three times higher than the national average. He should have noted how blacks commit homicide at a rate eight times higher than whites do, according to Department of Justice data. Even though blacks and Hispanics combined make up only 30 percent of the population, they make up more than 80 percent of all gang members in the United States. He should also have talked how even though black folks are only 13 percent of the population, we commit about 62 percent of all robberies and 56 percent of all carjackings. Obama should have then asked: “Is this really what Dr. King died for?”
2. ‘We Must Put the Black Family Back Together’
Even though the studies clearly show that children born into single-parent homes have worse outcomes in nearly every area, sadly, today about 72 percent of black kids are born to unwed mothers. This has created a whole new generation of troubled young men who have an increased likelihood of entering a life of crime and getting themselves into altercations with the police that create these divisive incidents we see on the news.
So putting the family back together so black children are born into stable, two-parent homes will go a long way to fixing many of the problems black people face today, including problems with the police. President Obama should have forcefully illuminated the broken state of black families, then outlined his ideas to put it back together. There are many ways to approach this, but one good place to start is to scale back well-intentioned but ineffective entitlement programs that encourage and enable single-motherhood, many of which the president himself unfortunately supports.
If he couldn’t have stomached this tough but true response, Obama could have at least given the example of how he leads his own family, which is indeed a stable two-parent black family.
3. ‘We Must Fix the Brokenness in Black Culture’
Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health Data shows that the popularity of black kids decreases as their GPA increases, a trend not seen for white public school children. This means black kids pay a high social price for pursuing academic excellence. Research from psychologist Angela Neal-Barnett shows that things like taking an Advanced Placement class, taking an honors class, or—gasp—speaking standard English were behaviors many black students saw as “acting white” and thus carried a social cost.
Researchers are still working out the reasons for this unfortunate phenomenon, but I suspect it exists simply because many young black people are rarely challenged by teachers, parents, communities, and the media. That’s because: 1) It’s much easier to just blame racism, and 2) Challenging black veneration of underachievement might be seen as racist.
However, President Obama should have avoided the easy, cowardly approach of blaming racism and instead forcefully illustrated the problem, proclaiming that achieving excellence does not have a race attached to it, and we will have zero tolerance for blacks who ridicule other black folks for pursuing distinction.
There is also a destructive thug culture among some strains of the black community. Black journalist Cynthia Tucker Haynes beautifully states: “Somewhere along the way, a cadre of young black men and women began glorifying violence, misogyny and thuggery, accepting incarceration as inevitable, resigning themselves to lives on the margins of mainstream society. They created a thug culture that has been commodified — celebrated in music and movies, sold to poor adolescents in wretched neighborhoods as well as affluent teenagers in upscale communities.”
What more can be said? President Obama should have uttered these powerful words last night, then ended them with, “Therefore, we must demolish this thug culture that is destroying young black Americans. We will treat it the same as terrorism: pursue it, confront it, and destroy it.” That’s right, I just compared thug culture to terrorism. September 11, 2011 killed about 3,000 Americans, yet about 5,500 black men kill other black men annually. That’s almost two black 9/11s per year! So where’s the War Against Thugs™?
4. ‘The Police Are Not the Main Problem’
Over the past 35 years, a mind-bending 323,820 black people have been killed by other black people in America, far exceeding the number of police officers killed during that same timeframe. The data showsabout 71 blacks are killed by other blacks for every one black person killed by a white police officer. It is clear then, the real problem is black people killing each other.
Yes, cases of police misconduct should be confronted and handled promptly when they occur. Absolutely. But black deaths due to the police account for less than 2 percent of all black murders, so attacking the police must never be the main issue. President Obama should thus have stated forcefully, “Let us stop blaming the police, for they are not the ones killing black folks. Sadly, it is black folks who are killing each other. Therefore, we must solve the national problem of black murder.”
5. ‘Blaming Police Gets More Police Killed’
Rhetoric that frames police for the deep, systematic problems in the black community puts police lives in danger by riling up hatred and resentment towards them, and encourages the kind of cop killers we’ve seen in Dallas and Baton Rouge. This kind of rhetoric can’t be tolerated.
First, it’s not true. The police are the first line of defense in protecting black Americans from black criminals, who overwhelmingly target black victims. Second, it takes focus away from the real issues at the source of the problem: broken families, thug culture, entitlement programs that disincentivize family formation, and a culture of low achievement.
President Obama should have thus forcefully declared “We will never allow police lives to be put in jeopardy by dangerous rhetoric that blames them for brokenness in minority communities, a brokenness they did not cause and cannot fix.”
Thankfully for the president, I do not charge for this free post-mortem analysis. But for further consultations, we’ll have to talk.