(NEW YORK) — President Barack Obama spoke passionately at an ABC town hall on race relations in America titled “The President and the People: A National Conversation” Thursday.
The president discussed his own experiences growing up as a black man in Hawaii and highlighted the need for more resources to be devoted to law enforcement in the hour-long town hall, urging police departments across the country to come together as “one family” with the communities they protect.
Here’s a look at the president’s eight most powerful quotes from the conversation:
‘Unequivocal in Condemning Any Rhetoric Directed at Police Officers’
After Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked President Obama to “consider being careful when there is an incident of not being too quick to condemn the police without due process and until the facts are known,” President Obama made clear that he has always been supportive of law enforcement.
“I have been unequivocal in condemning any rhetoric directed at police officers so I think, Lt. Gov., you’d be hard pressed to find any message that did not include a very strong support for law enforcement,” Obama said.
He added: “I’ll be happy to send it to you in case you missed it.”
‘I’m Mr. Hope’
President Obama went on to say that he is hopeful that real, lasting change can happen in improving trust between police departments and the communities they serve, giving himself the title of “Mr. Hope.”
“Nobody’s more hopeful than me. I’m Mr. Hope when it comes to these issues. I’ve said from the start that we are not as divided as we seem. And I think we’re gonna solve it,” the president said.
‘Real Change … at the Local Level’
President Obama emphasized real change can’t be accomplished by speeches and town halls alone.
“At the end of the day, I can give a nice speech, we can have a town hall, we can — the justice department can investigate certain cases or provide assistance and training to police officers so that they’re safe. We can do all those things, but real change is gonna happen at the local level,” Obama said.
‘It’s Too Late … After the Fact’
If change is to take place, the president urged, communities must take a preventative approach.
“They have to want to do this before tragedy happens. It’s too late if you’re doing it after the fact,” Obama said. “If you’re looking at a case like Ferguson … the relationship between the Ferguson police department and that community was terrible.”
‘See Each Other as One Family’
The president said that his hope is that everyone involved in the shooting tragedies in the past week can recognize and mourn in one another’s shared loss.
“My hope is that out of the tragedies that happened and my hope is that we are able to see each other as one family, that the mom of a police officer who is killed and the mom of an individual who is killed by a police officer, they have both lost a son,” the president said.
‘Presumption of Dangerousness’
The president also acknowledged that there’s a “presumption of dangerousness” for African-American men.
“I do think that in that sense what is true for me is true for a lot of African American men is there’s a greater presumption of dangerousness that arises from the social and cultural perceptions that have been fed to folks for a long time,” Obama said.
He noted sometimes he would encounter that sense of “dangerousness” just going about daily life.
“And then over time you start learning as you’re crossing the street suddenly the locks start going on doors,” he said.
‘Black Lives Matter … Not Meant to Suggest That Other Lives Don’t Matter’
President Obama also defended the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
“It’s important for us to also understand that the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ simply refers to the notion that there’s a specific vulnerability for African Americans that needs to be addressed. It’s not meant to suggest that other lives don’t matter. It’s to suggest that other folks aren’t experiencing this particular vulnerability,” he said.
He added: “And, and so we shouldn’t get too caught up in this notion that somehow people who are asking for fair treatment are somehow automatically anti-police, are trying to only look out for black lives as opposed to others.”
‘It Can’t Just Be All on the Police’
In paving a path for reform in relations between police and the communities they serve, President Obama said the responsibility to bring about change doesn’t only lie with the police, but with the community as a whole.
“It can’t just be all on the police,” he said. “It also got to be on the community. It also got to be on civic leaders. It got to be on churches. It got to be on elected officials to try to create these kinds of conversations before crises happen.”
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