The following are provocative excerpts from two columnists of Black Agenda Reportcalling out Obama and the black political class for not doing right on behalf of black Americans and, in particular, not being seriously committed to finding real justice and reform for such tragic cases as Trayvon Martin’s.
Margaret Kimberley in Freedom Rider: Obama and Trayvon Martin:
So Obama does what he has been doing for years now. He is the black but not so black man, and all black people are worse off because of his success. If there is justice for Trayvon it will be in spite of Barack Obama, not because of him.
The “master of marketing and fakery” was compelled by circumstances to appear concerned about his least favored people: young Black males and their families. President Obama’s most loyal constituents, who usually ask nothing of him, were demanding both an emotional and a substantive response to the Trayvon Martin killing. This was “all very problematic for the president, whose political success is the result of distancing himself from black people at best, and vilifying them at his worst moments.”
The shooting death of Trayvon Martin has galvanized black people across the country. Millions of people are of one mind, that this young man was killed because of racial hatred and they are of one accord in wanting to see justice done on his behalf.
But all of the love directed at the Obamas when they dress up for a state dinner or alight from Air Force One would not have helped the president if he disappointed the masses on the subject of Trayvon Martin. The master of marketing and fakery had a big problem on his hands once the story made national headlines.
The ordinarily besotted masses were driven to ask questions. Why did Obama pick up a phone and call Sandra Fluke, the law student who Rush Limbaugh called a slut, but not manage to contact Trayvon Martin’s parents? The answer is simple, there was no danger in contacting Fluke. White Democrats are always mad at the Limbaughs of the world, and spend an inordinate amount of time seeking out opinions which they can then condemn. As for Fluke, she is a well educated young white woman, untouchable and off limits from criticism. There would be no question about Ms. Fluke’s worthiness for sympathy and support.
Not so with Trayvon Martin or any other young black man. Martin is dead because his very being made him a suspect. There was little to gain and much to risk in coming to his defense, a terrible dilemma for the cautious black man whose success depends on his disconnection from other black people.
After saying blandly acceptable things such as how tragic Trayvon’s death was, and thinking about the case as a father, and exhorting all levels of government to come together and get to the bottom of the case, he knew had to say something which would appeal to black people.
“If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” at last came from his lips. An acknowledgement of the obvious, that he and Trayvon were of the same race. He did not connect any particular feeling to knowing that a son of his might end up like Trayvon ...
Bruce Dixon in Trayvon Martin, Troy Davis and the 2012 Election:
When Obama likened Trayvon Martin to his imaginary son, and that there ought to be a national debate about something or other, what did that mean? It might mean that he wants the votes of those outraged by the murder, but Obama isn't prepared do do much of anything to deserve them beyond claiming to feel our pain.
The world of US politics and media is a twisted place where lofty words often cloak base intentions. It's a world where Trayvon Martin's parents, for instance, feel obliged to trademark phrases containing their son's name to prevent economic exploitation of his case by canny entrepreneurs. But in a presidential election year, rampant political abuse, misuse, hand in hand with media disinformation and trivialization of Trayvon Martin and the meaning of his death are practically inevitable.
Corporate media news did cover the “million hoodie march,” a hastily organized outpouring of popular rage and frustration, not just at the individual murder of Trayvon martin, but at the universal American policy of hyper-policing young black males in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other cities. What the coverage left out, however, is that at least in New York, those thousands of hooded protesters ended their march by joining with Occupy Wall Street, where for the first time in six months the occupation was mostly African American, a fact that would have served the agendas of neither of the two corporate parties.
African Americans are the Democratic party's base constituency. Black politicians are long accustomed to making good sounding but often empty statements against police brutality, stop and frisk, and similar practices. In keeping with the rising level of public anger, black state legislators in New York showed up for a Monday morning press conference in hoodies, and Democrat-supporting figures in the corporate media like Keith Oberman did at least one segment of his show wearing a gray hoodie.
The problem of course, is that the culture of over-policing African Americans is deeply rooted in thousands federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors offices, and courts. Aside from repealing a single odious Florida law, few of the public figures and politicians suddenly concerned have any proposals to offer that might begin to roll back the omnipresent culture of racist policing, like rolling back the ability of law enforcement agencies to keep confiscated assets, or ceasing to funnel federal money to police departments based on the number of low level drug arrests. After all, that governing in the interest of the people stuff is hard. Showing up for work in a hoodie is easy.
The 21st century civil rights establishment, unlike their predecessors a half century ago, are so tightly bound to the fortunes and careers of elected Democrats that they dare not raise any demands which will embarrass their colleagues. So extending the dramatic demonstrations to, say, wearing a black ribbon until the nation's prison population is cut in half, are utterly unthinkable. Despite their demands for Justice Department interventions here and there, the last thing the civil rights establishment wants in a presidential year, when their candidate is courting “moderate” voters, is a deep and honest national discussion about hyper-policing and the prison state.
For our cynical black political class, which we sometimes call the black misleadership class, Troy Davis was last year's fundraising slogan, and this year's get-out-the-vote watchword will be remembering Trayvon Martin. Sound far-fetched? It's not. In the 2000 presidential campaign, the NAACP's national voter action arm commissioned a mailer to millions of black households across the country. It featured whites waving confederate flags and the tag line “If they win, we lose,” and a drawing of a pickup truck dragging a chain, an obvious reference to the 1998 Texas murder of James Byrd by white supremacists. In fairness, the murder did happen when Republican presidential candidate Bush was governor in Texas, and Texas had failed to pass hate crimes legislation.
As for the president, many Democrats, wise and learned members of our black political class have offered, on other subjects the excuse that the president can't say what he wants to say about this or that, or is saying what he thinks he must to please some unknown powerful interests. But if the president is prevaricating on these other fronts, how do we know he's not telling black people as much as he can of what he thinks we want to hear without actually doing much of anything? Obama isn't Trayvon's father, and he isn't ours either, so his imagined emotional connection is beside the point. He's not a pastor, he's a president. For a president, saying there ought to be a national debate without being willing to lead it is a weasely cop-out.
If the president was seriously concerned with trying to prevent police and vigilante murders, he could have opened his mouth on the November 2006 murder of Sean Bell by NYPD. As a member of the powerful US Senate Judiciary Committee and presidential aspirant, Obama was in an ideal spot to put both light and heat on that and many similar cases. He didn't. If the Obama White House was the least bit interested in leading the way, it could have told the Justice Department to find a legal reason to take an interest in the case of Troy Davis. That's all it would have taken to preserve Troy Davis's life for months or years longer, as investigations, debates and political maneuvers continued. Talk is cheap. Expressions of concern are cheap. Even a federal investigation confined to the specific case of Trayvon Martin is a tiny thing, as there are a million mostly young black men in prison, and hundreds will be killed by sworn police officers, not pretenders like Zimmerman this and every year of the near future.
For Obama and the black political class, interested only in their own careers, Trayvon Martin will be an empty slogan, a symbol. Their own careers are proof enough that rolling back the prison state won't be accomplished at the voting booth.