President Obama spoke at length today about the shooting of Trayvon Martin. On NPR, David Brooks praised the president's remarks -- though mostly because, in Brooks's interpretation (which isn't really accurate), the remarks spread the blame around equally. Here's part of what Brooks said:
They were strikingly personal. I thought they were Obama at his best, the Obama we saw in 2008, 2007, someone who is sympathetic to all sides. And he was sympathetic to the police, he's sympathetic to -- he gave the context especially for African-American experience and how many African-Americans are responding to this case. He gave the legal context. And so it was a broad tour d'horizon, you could say, of the whole situation, arriving at, I thought, a pretty moderate and responsible and mature position, which was the legal system did its work, it has to be respected, this really isn't a federal case in most cases. And so he arrived at a, I think, a pretty responsible position at the end of the day, at the same time giving voice to a whole range of conflicting feelings, conflicting thoughts, conflicting ideas, and I think giving all Americans a sense of what other people are feeling, why they're reacting the way they are. I thought it was a deeply unifying statement.I shouldn't complain when Brooks is deviating from right-wing thinking, but I don't think anything Obama said was "conflicting" -- nuanced, yes, but not conflicting. For instance, Obama said this:
And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent -- using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.There's no conflict there -- he simply thinks that the crime rate among young black males does not jutify ignoring historical and social contexts or treating young black males as suspects rather than citizens.
I think the African American community is also not naive in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else. So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys. But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied.
And frankly, it's not true that Obama was "sympathetic to all sides" in these remarks. Obama did not express sympathy to George Zimmerman, or extend a hand to his supporters. (I assume this is because, y'know, George Zimmerman killed someone who happened to be unarmed.)
Obama spoke about Stand Your Ground laws -- and, again, I don't think he was "sympathetic to all sides" (nor should he have been):
And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these "stand your ground" laws, I'd just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.Hearing this made David Brooks reconsider his position on these laws:
And I have to say, the point on the Stand Your Ground law was actually clarifying for me. I had some sympathy for the laws because as, you know, as Americans, we should be independent, we should be able to defend ourselves, be strong. But the argument he made about, you know, do we really want all sorts of people, do we really want what happened here, people walking around with guns feeling free to shoot off without legal protections, without the normal legal process -- now, that's a compelling argument, which he put very well.Yes, Brooks actually said he'd never quite thought about the possibility of extending Stand Your Ground to "all sorts of people." Yes, even those sorts. When you put it that way, Stand Your Ground is kinda scary, hunh, David?
Nice work, Professor Obama.