President Obama Tells Cops Why the Black Lives Matter Movement is Important

By Kenrya Rankin Oct 23, 2015

In “maybe if it’s repeated enough people will finally understand it news,” President Barack Obama explained to a room full of cops why “all lives matter” is not a logical counterpoint to the Black Lives Matter movement’s message.

Yesterday, the White House held a panel discussion on criminal justice reform with LAPD chief Charlie Beck and U.S. Attorney John Walsh. It was moderated by The Marshall Project editor-in-chief Bill Keller, and the audience members were primarily law enforcement leaders who have expressed interest in reforming the system. During the hour-long talk, Obama spoke about the nation’s history of racial bias in policing and why saying “Black Lives Matter” isn’t an attack on police officers or anyone else.

On racial bias:
When you look at, for example, racial bias in the criminal justice system, the criminal justice system and our law enforcement systems are reflections of us. And so if we, as a society, are willing to tolerate very poor neighborhoods with no opportunity, a lot of violence, a lot of substandard education, and then we’re surprised that the police, in interacting with a community that hasn’t been cared for, is going to have tougher interactions, then we’re passing the buck. … The problem of racial justice or injustice in the society has been a running theme in this country’s history for a very long time. And so we just have to make sure that all of us own it.

On the Black Lives Matter movement:
I think everybody understands all lives matter. Everybody wants strong, effective law enforcement. Everybody wants their kids to be safe when they’re walking to school. Nobody wants to see police officers, who are doing their job fairly, hurt. Everybody understands it’s a dangerous job. I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase “Black lives matter” was not because they said they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter; rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.

On why the nation needs to take the movement seriously:
We as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously. And one of the ways of avoiding the politics of this and losing the moment is everybody just stepping back for a second and understanding that the African-American community is not just making this up, and it’s not just something being politicized; it’s real and there’s a history behind it.

Watch the full forum below or read the transcript here