On Monday, President Obama met with members of his cabinet, law enforcement, and local mayors along with nationally recognized Civil Rights and faith leaders to address the cataclysmic events that have taken place in Ferguson, MO—and the broader issues they signify. As important as that sounds, what’s actually more notable and arguably more symbolic is that Obama met with others—namely youth activists who, on the rise since Trayvon Martin’s 2012 killing, may not typically have the platform of the aforementioned, but have made the most noise by mobilizing and taking to the streets to bring greater awareness to the matter of police brutality.
In the meeting, President Obama said, “When I hear the young people talk about their experiences it violates my belief in what America can do. To hear young people feeling marginalized and distrustful even after they’ve done everything right.”
Therein lies part of the problem: These young people are not simply feeling marginalized, they are marginalized, hence the distrust of law enforcement, the state that emboldens them, and our President, who recently told ABC News with respect to the non indictment of Michael Brown’s killer in Ferguson, “We’re not talking about systematic segregation or discrimination. They are solvable problems if in fact law enforcement officials are open to the kind of training and best practices that we’ve seen instituted in lot of parts of the country.”
This, despite the recent and ample amounts of Black bodies laid to rest, each of which argue to the contrary.
A day after meeting with President Obama, some of those very activists—Ashley Yates, Tef-Poe, T-Dubb-O, James Hayes, Jose Lopez, and Phillip Agnew—held a conference call to discuss their feelings following speaking with the president.
Ashley Yates of Millennial Activists United noted, “President Obama told us he was proud of us as a former community organizer. White House meeting shows this movement is working.” That aside, with respect to President Obama coming to Ferguson, Yates added, “that’s too little, too late. What we need him to do now is him use the power of his position, the power of the highest office of the land to enact some real change.”
“We have been on the ground making the changes that we can in our community, but these are high-level changes and these are systemic issues and we need systemic solutions for them,” Yates explained.
Some of the suggestive changes —i.e. the call to place body cameras on police officers—may not be as impactful as they sound, activists argued. The cameras and additional training would be covered by the $263 million Obama has called for, but the Dream Defenders’ Phillip Agnew suggested that investment in the communities would serve a greater purpose long term. Others noted that training, too, has its limits, and that unless individual police officers actually care about the communities which they are supposed to protect and serve, new philosophies on policing may fall on deaf ears.
“Police occupation of our neighborhoods is not working,” Agnew said.
And in a statement perhaps designed to subtly challenge the President, Tef Poe drove home the problem with the ambiguity of leadership when addressing race-related matters. “We need solid statements from local leaders to acknowledge that racism is real in Missouri,” he argued.