Obama Announces New Initiative to Help Young Minorities, As Police Deploy in Baltimore

The president unveiled My Brother’s Keeper Alliance from New York on Monday.

President Obama speaks about a new My Brother's Keeper initiative as police action gets underway in Baltimore, May 4, 2015.
National Journal
Brian Resnick and Priscilla Alvarez
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Brian Resnick and Priscilla Alvarez
May 4, 2015, 11:52 a.m.

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.”

(RE­LATED: Obama Gives Rare Glimpse In­to His Post-Pres­id­ency Plans

“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.

(RE­LATED: The State of Se­greg­a­tion in the Sub­urbs

“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.

(RE­LATED: Why Do We Ex­pect Barack Obama to Fix Race Re­la­tions?

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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