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Obama, can't you see black anger in Ferguson?

By Marc Lamont Hill, CNN Commentator
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Protesters march in Ferguson, Missouri, on Thursday, August 21. The St. Louis suburb has been in turmoil since a white police officer, Darren Wilson, fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, on August 9. Some protesters and law enforcement officers have clashed in the streets, leading to injuries and arrests. Protesters march in Ferguson, Missouri, on Thursday, August 21. The St. Louis suburb has been in turmoil since a white police officer, Darren Wilson, fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, on August 9. Some protesters and law enforcement officers have clashed in the streets, leading to injuries and arrests.
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Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
Emotions run high in Ferguson, Missouri
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In Brown shooting, Obama preached calm. Marc Lamont Hill would rather he'd said nothing
  • He says Obama left out mention of race, a clear factor in police antagonism in Ferguson
  • He says extrajudicial killings of blacks undeniable; Obama comments left this out
  • Hill: Obama chided protester, cops in same moral tone; equivalence gave cops cover

Editor's note: Marc Lamont Hill is a CNN political commentator and Distinguished Professor of African-American Studies at Morehouse College. The opinion expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Over the past two days, President Barack Obama has finally weighed in on the tragic shooting of Michael Brown, as well as the wave of protests that emerged in its aftermath. In an official White House statement on Wednesday and a brief speech from Martha's Vineyard on Thursday, the President played his usual role of "the uniter," preaching calm and healing to the American public.

I wish he'd just said nothing.

Marc Lamont Hill
Marc Lamont Hill

To be clear, I didn't have any unrealistic expectations for Obama. I didn't expect him to pump a black fist in solidarity or scream "fight the power" from the makeshift press room. I didn't even need him to take a clear side on the issue. I did, however, expect him to tell the truth. Instead, the President delivered a polite but ultimately dangerous message to the American public.

Noticeably absent from President Obama's remarks was the issue of race. Despite Ferguson being 68% black, Ferguson's police force is nearly all white. Blacks in the town comprise 86% of all vehicle stops and 85% of all arrests. Over the past week, black residents of the town have complained of racial harassment from law enforcement. That, combined with the trend of unarmed black men being the victims of extrajudicial killings, makes the racial implications of Brown's death quite strong.

Even if one were to believe that Michael Brown's killing had nothing to do with race -- a naïve position at best -- the wave of protests and debates that emerged after it happened have been undeniably racial. By not mentioning this racial dimension, the President reinforced the immature notion that racism can be defeated simply by pretending it doesn't exist.

Full coverage on Ferguson shooting

Rather than leading the nation into a new level of racial understanding and dialogue, the President took the safe path through the door of post-racial rhetoric.

Obama has also placed the highest priority on remaining calm. While this may seem reasonable on its face, particularly against the backdrop of rioting and looting, his words failed to acknowledge the legitimacy of black anger. Black people die violent deaths way out of proportion to their numbers, sometimes killed by rogue cops and even more often each other. Why would we not be angry?

Opinion: Obama needs to lead on racial profiling legislation

But unlike black-on-black violence, which is tragic but typically punished through proper legal channels, killings of unarmed young people by law enforcement continue to happen with impunity. Instead of acknowledging the legitimacy of black anger over this, the President simply told us to calm down and stop looting. In doing so, he joined the chorus of far too many politicians and civil rights leaders who understate and trivialize righteous anger in order to show the public that they have "the people" under control.

Perhaps most frustrating, however, was the president's insistence on using the language of equivalence when describing the rioting. Similar to his "Philadelphia Compromise" speech on race back in in 2008, where he ignored the legacy of white supremacy and placed the racial frustrations of white and black Americans on equal historical tiers, Obama chided both black rioters and Ferguson police with the same moral tone.

The President ignored the fact that the militarized Ferguson police force were the antagonists of the unrest, in both shooting the unarmed Brown and then using excessive force during the protests. In doing so, he (perhaps unwittingly) supported the narrative in some quarters of well-intentioned police officers whose hands were forced by violent natives.

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