Perhaps it is fitting that, having absolved American racists of all manner of crimes against others, Obama also holds them blameless for their assaults on himself. That's his prerogative, as long as he's the only one being assaulted. But Obama was also dogged over the long weekend by the ghost of Sean Bell, whose death in a 50-shot New York City police fusillade was held blameless by a white judge. Many African Americans anxiously awaited Obama's reaction to the three police officers' acquittals on all charges. "We're a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down," said Obama, when asked about the case by reporters in Indiana. "Resorting to violence to express displeasure over a verdict is something that is completely unacceptable and is counterproductive." That was it.
Hillary Clinton, aware that the Sean Bell verdict was an outrage to Black America, issued a prepared statement:
"This tragedy has deeply saddened New Yorkers - and all Americans. My thoughts are with Nicole and her children and the rest of Sean's family during this difficult time. The court has given its verdict, and now we await the conclusion of a Department of Justice civil rights investigation. We must also embrace this opportunity to take steps - in our communities, in our law enforcement agencies, and in our government - to make sure this does not happen again."
It is difficult not to conclude that Obama distanced himself from the facts of the acquittal - except to counsel against violence and urge folks to "respect" the verdict, whatever that means - while Clinton had the sense to prepare a statement that sounded sensitive to Black anger and on top of developments in the story. The Sean Bell police and judicial atrocity revealed with horrific clarity that Black life continues to be systematically devalued by police in the United States, even when the officers involved are of African descent, as were two of the three shooters in the Bell case. The New York verdict shows that Black lives are devalued by all actors in American society, including Black actors: the essence of institutional racism.
- Obama's "race-neutral" Strategy Unravels of its own Contradictions, black agenda report, 04.30.08