On Monday, President Obama introduced a spinoff of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative in hopes of reducing the racial gap in the U.S. economy amid recent turmoil in Baltimore, while in a cable-news splitscreen, police in the city responded in force to an alleged handgun violation.
“That sense of unfairness and of powerlessness, of people not hearing their voices, that’s helped fuel some of the protests we’ve seen in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and right here in New York,” Obama said from Lehman College in New York. “The catalyst of those protests were the tragic deaths of young men and a feeling that law is not always applied evenly in this country. In too many places in this country, black boys and black men, Latino boys, Latino men, they experience being treated differently by law enforcement.”
The president expanded on his comments last week on confrontations between law enforcement and young black men as a “slow-rolling crisis.”
“What we gathered here to talk about today is something that goes deeper than policing. It speaks to who we are as a nation and what we’re willing to do to make sure that equality of opportunity is not an empty word,” he said.
During the president’s remarks, confusion and outrage again gripped Baltimore. Contradictory reports circulated about a police incident near where protests and riots broke out last week. While some bystanders told reporters that a man had been shot by police, police officials quickly dismissed those accounts as “unfounded.” According to CNN, Baltimore Police were trying to arrest the man on a possible handgun violation. Police say the man dropped the gun, and it fired. According to the Baltimore Sun, police say the man was arrested and then hospitalized “out of an abundance of caution.” A revolver was recovered with one spent cartridge, a Baltimore police spokesperson told reporters on scene. “The police never discharged any weapons,” he said. “He [the man with the gun] is not shot… No one was injured.”
President Obama unwittingly narrated from hundreds of miles away.
“We ask police to go into communities where there’s no hope,” Obama said, almost concurrently. “Eventually something happens because of the tensions between society and these communities, and the police are just on the front lines of that.”
The nonprofit, called My Brother’s Keeper alliance, is a spinoff of My Brother’s Keeper, which was introduced by the president in February 2014 as an attempt to improve the futures of young minority males. Former Deloitte CEO Joe Echevarria will lead the alliance with a team that also includes singer John Legend. The advisory group is stacked with athletes and former government officials, including Shaquille O’Neal, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Attorney General Eric Holder. Thus far, the alliance has announced $80 million in commitments, according to the president.
Obama touted the involvement of the private sector Monday. “They’re not doing it just to assuage society’s guilt. They’re doing this because they know that making sure all of our young people have the opportunity to succeed is an economic imperative,” he said.
Broderick Johnson, chairman of the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, said the alliance will join private-sector organizations “to focus on expanding opportunity and tearing down barriers facing our youth.”
To do so, the alliance will use corporate donations to provide grants to programs and to assist in community infrastructure.
“They’re going to help build our communities. They will make our communities safer,” Obama said on the success of minority youth. “They aren’t part of the problem, they’re potentially part of the solution if we treat them as such.”
Johnson called the initiative “deeply personal,” adding that “as a proud son of Baltimore, this week’s announcement comes at a time of unique and special resonance for me.”
Monday’s announcement follows last week’s unrest in Baltimore linked to the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal injury while in police custody. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges Friday against six officers involved in Gray’s arrest, ranging from assault to second-degree murder.
The alliance may also provide a clue into what Obama plans to take on post-presidency. Obama alluded to his aspirations Thursday. “I’ll be done being president in a couple years, and I’ll still be a pretty young man,” he said while speaking to students at the Anacostia Library. “So, I’ll go back to doing the kinds of work that I was doing before. Just trying to find ways to help people, help young people get educations, and help people get jobs, try to bring business into neighborhoods that don’t have enough businesses. That’s the kind of work that I really love to do.”
He repeated those remarks Monday, saying “this will remain a mission for me and for Michelle, not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life.”
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