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For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

  • Luis Ramirez

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding.

The time for healing for which President Barack Obama hopes has yet to arrive in Ferguson.

Interrupting a vacation, the president returned to the White House Monday and met with Attorney General Eric Holder, the man spearheading the administration's efforts to independently investigate the shooting of a young unarmed black man by a white police officer.

At a briefing, the president called for understanding.

“To a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than to simply holler at each other. Let's seek to heal rather than to wound each other. As Americans we've got to use this moment to seek our shared humanity that's been laid bare by this moment,” said Obama.

In a bid to find the truth, the family of the 18-year-old victim requested a preliminary autopsy.

And another autopsy, by a federal medical examiner, has been ordered by Attorney General Holder as part of an administration effort to shed light on the truth and restore calm.

For Obama, it's a personal issue. Following the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed black teenager shot in a racially charged incident, the president spoke of how he sees race relations in his country.

“There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping at a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happened to me, at least before I was a senator,” said Obama.

With infant mortality and incarceration rates higher, and income and education levels lower, than non-blacks, Professor Greg Carr, head of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, said there hasn't been any real fundamental change in race relations in the U.S.

Regardless of the color of the occupant of the Oval Office - certainly with President Obama in office and Attorney General Eric Holder, there perhaps is an expectation that there may be more swift action taken to resolve some of these issues or to at least deal with some of the issues in real time. However, that expectation is tenuous because we understand that Barack Obama is not the president of black America as he frequently reminds us, he’s the president of the United States of America,” said Carr.

President Obama announced he's sending the attorney general to Ferguson to meet with investigators who are carrying out the independent federal probe that's under way.

The president says he hopes the truth will be what eventually brings peace to Ferguson and allows the country to move beyond this bout of racial tensions.

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