Obama Says His 'Institutional Role' Restricted His Comments About Ferguson

Before, during and after his presidency, Barack Obama faced intense scrutiny. Much of his critics resided in the Republican Party, but he also received critique from those in his party or who were more left-leaning. One of the most popular critiques of the former U.S. President pertained to his responses to acts of police violence. Some felt he responded appropriately to these matters, but others feel that he could have been more vocal about the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and several others. During a recent virtual forum, Obama offered insight as to why he responded the way he did as a sitting U.S. President.

"I went as far as I could just commenting on cases like Trayvon Martin or what was happening in Ferguson because as we discovered, not every president follows this, at least my successor didn't. But I followed the basic notion that the Justice Department was independent, I could not steer them," Obama said.

"I did not in any way want to endanger their capacity to go in, investigate and potentially charge perpetrators, which meant that I could not come down or appear to come down decisively in terms of guilt or innocence in terms of what happened. So you had institutional constraints."

The former President went on to say that he "constantly struggled" with figuring out how to turn his passion and concern for the deaths of Brown, Gray, Martin, Tamir Rice and several others into political action.

"But what I'm proud of is that not only were we able to refashion how the Justice Department thought about these issues -- coming in, looking at a jurisdiction like Ferguson and saying: 'How do we use all the tools of the federal government to rethink what they're doing and to hold them accountable?' -- but also to be able to use our convening power to gather and focus attention on what are the practical outcomes that can be implemented across the country," he continued.

After leaving office, Obama has still been fairly measured and calculated with his comments. With that said, he has delivered in-depth responses whenever asked about the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in recent months.

Very rarely, though, did you see it so viscerally and over a stretch of time where the humanity of the victim is so apparent, the pain and the vulnerability of someone so clear. And it was, I think, a moment in which America for a brief moment came face to face with a reality that African Americans in this country I think had understood for quite some time," he said about Floyd's murder.

“We have a criminal justice system in which we ask oftentimes very young, oftentimes not-very-well-trained officers to go into communities and just keep a lid on things. And, you know, we don’t try to get at some of the underlying causes for chronic poverty."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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