Cornel West: Obama has failed victims of racism and police brutality

The president and his cheerleaders refused to engage deeply with systemic problems facing our country. That came back to haunt America last week.

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‘The American empire is in deep spiritual decline and decay.’ Photograph: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images   

And now – in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and beyond – this legacy has comes back to haunt the whole country.

Obama and his cheerleaders should take responsibility for being so reluctant to engage with these issues. It’s not a question of interest group or constituencies. Unfortunately for so much of the Obama administration its been a question of “I’m not the president of black people, I’m the president of everyone.” But this is a question of justice. It’s about being concerned about racism and police brutality.


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I have deep empathy for brothers and sisters who are shot in the police force. I also have profound empathy for people of color who are shot by the police. I have always believed deliberate killing to be a crime against humanity.

Yet, Obama didn’t go to Baton Rouge. He didn’t go to Minneapolis. He flew over their heads to go to Dallas. You can’t do that. His fundamental concern was to speak to the police, that was his priority. When he references the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s to speak to the police. But the people who are struggling have a different perspective.

The very notion that Dallas is the paragon of policing is something that needs to be interrogated. The Dallas mayor said we have done nothing wrong, but look at your history. Ask people in southern Dallas about the police. Ask Clinton Allen, an unarmed black man fatally shot by the Dallas police in 2013. I was with his mother, Collette Flanagan, the founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, last year. Countless people came up and told us about all the struggles black communities are having with the Dallas police.

Unfortunately, Obama thrives on being in the middle. He has no backbone to fight for justice. He likes to be above the fray. But for those us us who are in the fray, there is a different sensibility. You have to choose which side you’re on, and he doesn’t want to do that. Fundamentally, he’s not a love warrior. He’s a polished professional. Martin Luther King Jr, Adam Clayton Powell Jr and Ella Baker – they were warriors.

Obama’s attitude is that of a neo-liberal, and they rarely have solidarity with poor and working people. Whatever solidarity he does offer is just lip-service to suffering but he never makes it a priority to end that suffering.

Obama has power right now to enact the recommendations made after Ferguson. Better training, independent civilian oversight boards, body cameras. But he has not used executive orders to push any of these changes through.

This November, we need change. Yet we are tied in a choice between Trump, who would be a neo-fascist catastrophe, and Clinton, a neo-liberal disaster. That’s why I am supporting Jill Stein. I am with her – the only progressive woman in the race – because we’ve got to get beyond this lock-jaw situation. I have a deep love for my brotherBernie Sanders, but I disagree with him on Hillary Clinton. I don’t think she would be an “outstanding president”. Her militarism makes the world a less safe place.

Clinton policies of the 1990s generated inequality, mass incarceration, privatization of schools and Wall Street domination. There is also a sense that the Clinton policies helped produce the right-wing populism that we’re seeing now in the country. And we think she’s going to come to the rescue? That’s not going to happen.

The American empire is in deep spiritual decline and cultural decay. The levels of wealth inequality and environmental degradation is grotesque. The correct response to this is: tell the truth about what is going on. Bear witness. Be willing to go to jail to fight for justice if need be.

When the system is declining, it can bring despair. That’s why Black Lives Matter – and all other young people of all colors who are mobilizing – is a beautiful thing. We are having a moral and spiritual awakening. It gives us democratic hope. Its not about having hope but being hope. It’s time to move from being spectators, to being actors.

Contact the author: @CornelWest

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One comment

  1. CORNEL WEST is one of the great minds of our times–a truth-teller of heart & soul. His books “Democracy Matters” and “Race Matters” should be required reading for anyone concerned about the state of our country and our planet. West stepped OUTside of the corridors of power to support Bernie Sanders (when so many stuck it out with the planned candidate Hillary Clinton–so, as to not risk grant funding or for promises of future jobs, who thought of their CAREERS & NOT of their communities). Now, that Sanders has lost the nomination, West could easily say “We ahve to stop Trump so I have to support Hillary.” Everywhere that’s what is being said and written by those calling themselves liberals and progressives of all colors. But, West has enough INTEGRITY to say ‘NO, I will NOT support a candidate who helped to CREATE the current economic inequality, EXPANDED the U.S. prison system and WAGES WAR around the world. West has taken another BRAVE stand by supporting the GREEN PARTY candidate DR. JILL STEIN. He has VISION and casts his vote out of that vision–NOT out of fear.

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