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Obama: ‘We can’t forget about’ Black homicides

Obama: ‘We can’t forget about’ Black homicides
President Barack Obama greets NUL President Marc Morial. NUL PHOTO

By Hazel Trice Edney
Trice Edney News Wire

LOUISIANA—Applauded by a wildly enthusiastic crowd at the National Urban League convention in New Orleans, President Obama — in a rare moment — spoke of the war-level violence in Black communities. And, defying critics, he also seized the opportunity to say specifically what he has done for Black people.

“Our hearts break for the victims of the massacre in Aurora,” he said in the speech, which was punctuated often with applause. “We pray for those who were lost and we pray for those who loved them. We pray for those who are recovering with courage and with hope,” he said of the tragic shooting in which 12 people were killed in a Colorado movie theatre last week.

But, then, the President turned the page: “And we also pray for those who succumb to the less-publicized acts of violence that plague our communities in so many cities across the country every single day,” he said to more applause. “We can’t forget about that.”

He went deeper comparing the occasional violence in some communities to the daily violence in Black communities.

“Every day – in fact, every day and a half, the number of young people we lose to violence is about the same as the number of people we lost in that movie theater. For every Columbine or Virginia Tech, there are dozens gunned down on the streets of Chicago and Atlanta, and here in New Orleans. For every Tucson or Aurora, there is daily heartbreak over young Americans shot in Milwaukee or Cleveland. Violence plagues the biggest cities, but it also plagues the smallest towns. It claims the lives of Americans of different ages and different races, and it’s tied together by the fact that these young people had dreams and had futures that were cut tragically short.”

According to a compilation of FBI annual homicide statistics, more than 300,000 African Americans have been killed by violence since the mid-1970s, when the federal government began compiling the stats. That’s greater than the population of some cities, including Cincinnati, Ohio.

The President alluded to tougher gun laws, but stopped short of promising specific action in the near future.

“And when there is an extraordinarily heartbreaking tragedy like the one we saw, there’s always an outcry immediately after for action. And there’s talk of new reforms, and there’s talk of new legislation. And too often, those efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying and eventually by the pull of our collective attention elsewhere,” he said.

He noted that since the Tucson shooting that wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, “the background checks conducted on those looking to purchase firearms are now more thorough and more complete.”

He added that, “the federal government is now in the trenches with communities and schools and law enforcement and faith-based institutions, with outstanding mayors like Mayor Nutter [of Philadelphia] and Mayor Landrieu [of New Orleans] – recognizing that we are stronger when we work together.” He also listed partnerships with cities for summer jobs, youth prevention and intervention programs “that steer young people away from a life of gang violence, and towards the safety and promise of a classroom.”

He then concluded that none of these actions have been enough because of political stalemate.

“Other steps to reduce violence have been met with opposition in Congress. This has been true for some time – particularly when it touches on the issues of guns,” he said. He said he believes strongly in the Second Amendment right to bear arms, “But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.”

Obama vowed to continue working with both parties, with religious groups and with civic organizations, “to arrive at a consensus around violence reduction – not just of gun violence – but violence at every level, on every step, looking at everything we can do to reduce violence and keep our children safe -– from improving mental health services for troubled youth to instituting more effective community policing strategies. We should leave no stone unturned, and recognize that we have no greater mission as a country than keeping our young people safe.”

In another unique move, the President listed several of his economic and educational accomplishments in the Black community:

“…We’ve helped African American businesses and minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses gain access to more than $7 billion in contracts and financing that allowed them to grow and create jobs,” he seized the July 25 opportunity to list his accomplishments in the Black community – a rarity in his speeches these days.

He continued, “…Millions of Americans – including more than 2 million African American families – are better off, thanks to our extension of the child care tax credit and the earned income tax credit, because nobody who works hard in America should be poor in America.”

He added, “…We’ve fought to make college more affordable for an additional 200,000 African American students by increasing Pell grants. That’s why we’ve strengthened this nation’s commitment to our community colleges, and to our HBCUs.”

Critics of Obama have bemoaned the fact that he rarely mentions the specific pains of the African American community. That criticism got louder when he skipped the NAACP convention in July, sending Vice President Joseph Biden instead.

Finally, he announced, “…Tomorrow, I’m establishing the first-ever White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans – so that every child has greater access to a complete and competitive education from the time they’re born all through the time they get a career.” [See page A5]

Reflecting on the success of such a program, he balanced it out with the reality that it would mean nothing without measures to keep children safe.  “Good jobs, quality schools, affordable health care, affordable housing – these are all the pillars upon which communities are built. And yet, we’ve been reminded recently that all this matters little if these young people can’t walk the streets of their neighborhood safely; if we can’t send our kids to school without worrying they might get shot; if they can’t go to the movies without fear of violence lurking in the shadows.”

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