The president delivered a speech that was, more or less, what you would expect. There were appeals for calm, appeals for communities and police to work together and a strange attempt at pacification by claiming progress in race relations:
We have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades. I have witnessed that in my own life, and to deny that progress, I think is to deny America's capacity for change. But what is also true is that there are still problems — and communities of color aren't just making these problems up. Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in a discriminatory fashion."Obama also indicated that the verdict would have been divisive, regardless of how things had turned out.
"There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed — even angry,"What is telling, I think, about the "progress" that has been made and the general direction that U.S. Politics has taken is that 22 years ago, on May 1, 1992 another US President took to the airwaves to address racial unrest in the wake of the Rodney King verdict and George Bush Sr. took a very different approach.
Bush acknowledged sending the National Guard into Los Angeles to quell the riots and assured the American people that the riots would stop. When discussing the verdict itself however, there was no acknowledgement of "divisiveness", Bush immediately announced that the federal government was taking over where the California justice system had failed:
I spoke this morning to many leaders of the civil rights community. And they saw the video, as we all did. For 14 months they waited patiently, hopefully. They waited for the system to work. And when the verdict came in, they felt betrayed. Viewed from outside the trial, it was hard to understand how the verdict could possibly square with the video. Those civil rights leaders with whom I met were stunned. And so was I, and so was Barbara, and so were my kids.
But the verdict Wednesday was not the end of the process. The Department of Justice had started its own investigation immediately after the Rodney King incident and was monitoring the State investigation and trial. And so let me tell you what actions we are taking on the Federal level to ensure that justice is served.
Within one hour of the verdict, I directed the Justice Department to move into high gear on its own independent criminal investigation into the case. And next, on Thursday, five Federal prosecutors were on their way to Los Angeles. Our Justice Department has consistently demonstrated its ability to investigate fully a matter like this.
Since 1988, the Justice Department has successfully prosecuted over 100 law enforcement officials for excessive violence. I am confident that in this case, the Department of Justice will act as it should. Federal grand jury action is underway today in Los Angeles. Subpoenas are being issued. Evidence is being reviewed. The Federal effort in this case will be expeditious, and it will be fair. It will not be driven by mob violence but by respect for due process and the rule of law.
We owe it to all Americans who put their faith in the law to see that justice is served. But as we move forward on this or any other case, we must remember the fundamental tenet of our legal system. Every American, whether accused or accuser, is entitled to protection of his or her rights.(A full transcript of the speech is available from the American Presidency Project at UCSB.)
I am certainly not saying that Bush was a better President than Obama, he wasn't. But it is interesting that in 1992 a white, Republican, former CIA director was able to acknowledge that a miscarriage of justice had taken place and promise that the federal government would continue to try to right the wrong. Meanwhile, in 2014 a black, Democrat, former community activist cannot make any such promises.
Mr. Obama may want to reevaluate how much progress has been made overall "in race relations over the course of the past several decades."
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