Dear President Obama: Please Do More For Citizens Who Look Like You

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In the wake of yesterday’s Stop-and-Frisk ruling, Khadijah White pleads with the President to do more in defense of people of color.

Dear Mr. President,

Yesterday in New York, a judge made a groundbreaking ruling in evaluating the city’s Stop-and-Frisk policies as a violation of constitutional rights. “No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life,” she said, arguing that “Targeting young black and Hispanic men for stops based on the alleged criminal conduct of other young black or Hispanic men violates bedrock principles of equality.”

Not too long ago you endorsed NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly as a possible contender for the top national domestic security post as Homeland Security chief. “Kelly has obviously done an extraordinary job in New York,” you lauded. I think that this might be just the right moment to talk to you about that.

I remember your endorsement keenly—I was still horrified by the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial, the easy acquittal of a man who had stalked and killed a black child in the cover of darkness. So yours was an especially piercing betrayal, your smiling commendation of a man who has unleashed an armed force that regularly assaults, harasses, and executes children who look so much like you did not too long ago. In the name of stopping violence, the man you called an “outstanding leader in New York” led a police force that has stopped 532,911 black and brown people, 99.8 percent carrying no weapons at all. And he believes he should be stopping more. 

I wonder about you, Mr. President. I try often to come up with reasons for why you seem so comfortable ignoring all of the terror in these cities. I’ve come up with a list of possibilities, so feel free to let me know when I’ve reached the right conclusion.

Is it because you grew up in Hawaii, far from black family members or inner-city trauma? You never lost your father to a jail cell or a relative to a gunshot wound. I’m guessing that maybe you can’t relate to the terror of a ghetto-stricken kid, who leaves his house everyday wondering if he’ll make it back. Every night in your America, Mr. President, children in cities are locking their doors and hiding, praying that they don’t die from stray bullets while they sleep. They’re going to schools more likely to send them to prison than college.

And they’re afraid of walking home or going to school because of the police officers who choose too often to brutalize, harass, bully, and even sexually assault them, instead of making them more safe. Do you know how scary it is to be regularly followed and threatened by people with guns who can kill you with legal impunity? Perhaps you need to take one moment and recall what it was like to be a black man walking city streets during all those years before you had a Secret Service detail.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

When you travel to these cities, Mr. President, and stand in front of black audiences, you have a tendency to blame the locals for their own environment. I guess it helps you sleep at night thinking that you only have a responsibility to victims who look like the kids from Newtown while kids like Hadiya Pendleton are portrayed as mere losers in the American version of the “Hunger Games.” Believe it or not, the fittest don’t always survive.

Now these are strong statements, Mr. President, and forgive me if I judge you unfairly. But when you endorse someone like Commissioner Ray Kelly, I can’t help but believe that you care very little about black or brown people. To be quite honest, I think that you might not be the best person to represent our concerns.

In the wake of yesterday’s decision, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly returned to the podiums to lambast the judge’s ruling. In an amazing feat of doublespeak, Kelly claimed that “race is never a reason to conduct a stop” but that the police target brown and black people to protect them from themselves. Last night on MSNBC, Councilman Peter Vallone stood in for Kelly and Bloomberg and argued that black and brown people “match exactly, the criminals.” That is, all black and brown people are always justifiably stopped because we’re all potential criminals. Always, no matter what.

These comments do not, of course, begin to address the warrantless surveillance of Muslims inside and beyond New York City boundaries, or the blatant and brutal attacks on the first amendment rights of political dissenters that we’ve witnessed in the last few years.

Did you know that Commissioner Ray Kelly recently chose to personally return the gun used to shoot Amadou Diallo to one of his killers, a man who shot the unarmed black immigrant through his feet into an open residential building and still continues to serve as an NYPD officer? Have you heard that under the leadership of your top political choice, the police have put women, sex workers, and transgendered people (especially those of color) at high risk by targeting and arresting them for carrying condoms? Did you know that? Do you care?

Are these the beliefs and practices of a man that you believe will “be very well qualified for the job“? Nothing good has ever come from the state-sponsored stigmatization and targeting of people based on their religion, race, or other group identifiers, Mr. President, and it never will.

I’ve tried to overlook a lot, Mr. President. Republicans have worked hard against many of your efforts, so I try to focus on your actions and words. You’ve expanded the unconstitutional practices of government secrecy, surveillance, and torture, you were the first sitting President to launch a military strike on the African continent, you approve drone attacks that indiscriminately kill women and children non-combatants, signed a health reform law that does more for insurance companies than American citizens, and more.

You’ve maligned victims of predatory lending for being “reckless buyers” despite the evidence that banks should be blamed for clearly targeting and discriminating against people of color with bad loans (regardless of their credit score or income). Entire communities are devastated and your solution is to take down Freddie and Fannie, the only lenders to initially help blacks and Hispanics finally purchase homes? While I’m grateful for your comments on Trayvon Martin and the efforts of your administration to protect the voting rights of its citizens, you too often seem to use your “bully pulpit” only to bully the poor and marginalized. 

And your endorsement of Commissioner Ray Kelly only buttresses this point.

Look, I can’t break up with you Mr. President—I’ll leave that to the likes of Matt Damon and Jay-Z. But I do want to ask you, beg you even, to do more for the people who so overwhelmingly helped put you in that big, safe, white mansion. They trusted you, put their faith in you, hoped that maybe you would understand their plight. As someone who studies media and politics, I know how important your words and opinions are. In all likelihood, your descriptions and shaming of poor brown and black people help bolster the attacks on the very services that help them survive. 

So try, Mr. President. OK? Try harder and do better. Some of us are still waiting, watching.

Hoping.

Khadijah Costley White is a faculty member in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Find her on Twitter here.

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