Friday, July 19, 2013

Obama on Trayvon Martin

President Obama has just offered his thoughts on the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case.

In my opinion, the President's speech was mostly good. His tone was calm and his message generally considered. He challenged all Americans to consider the historical legacy of American race relations in the context of post-trial outrage in the African American community. He created a semblance of distance between himself and the Justice Department's ongoing investigation of Zimmerman - an investigation that reeks of politics. In a delicate statement, but one of crucial importance, Obama challenged African American communities to consider why such a disproportionate number of young black men end up in the criminal justice system. These things were good. As was Obama's suggestion that local and state police agencies seek more constructive community partnerships with the people they serve - an uncontroversial suggestion deserving of energy (see Bill Bratton).

However, the President's condemnation of Florida's ''stand your ground'' law was unwelcome and unjustifiable. Nonetheless, it follows in the proven vein of Obama's authoritarian comfort. Let's be clear, the United States is a Federal entity. The most basic and existential prerequisite of this system of government requires that people should be allowed to develop their own laws at a local level. As I've argued in regards to gun laws, Washington DC rarely knows what's best.

So, in essence, I have no problem with the President contributing to an important national discussion. In many ways this is a central part of his job. Yet, as he makes his thoughts known, Obama should also bear respect to local democracy.

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