Yesterday, on a very special edition of 106 & Park, the focus was on recent events surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, featuring an interview with President Obama. (Well, they teased an interview with President Obama throughout the show only to build towards a BET News special that basically reran much of what we had already watched via excerpts. Even when seeking depth, never forget that there are advertising dollars to make).
In between the excerpts were the airings of quasi-political videos like Lil’ Wayne’s “God Bless Amerika.” (It’s awful and Wayne still sings like Gargamel the Evil Wizard from The Smurfs.) There were also talks with young people, whom we couldn’t really hear via technical difficulties; plus emcees like B.o.B., who uh, did their best.
Now, there were more informative portions that reminded us of the need for a show like Teen Summit. This would include interviews with youth activists Tef Poe, Ashley Yates, T-Dubb-O, plus a segment with an attorney named Mic Sean, who explained what’s transpired from a legal standpoint in layman’s terms.
As for President Obama’s interview with Jeff Johnson, it was the same President Obama we’ve watched in recent weeks. He stressed, “This is not just a Black problem or a Brown problem, but an American problem.” That was him last night, but that is Obama every night. It is effectively Obama wasting his breath.
Yes, Black and brown men are Americans, too; and therefore, must be spoken of as Americans. However, it has long been an American tradition to persecute Black men. Many young people of color may not think about race in the same terms as their older peers, but reality is making it clear that others are thinking in those terms. After all, Eric Garner’s killer was 29.
Perhaps President Obama can never speak candidly to this truth, given his position. Obama noted this in explaining to Johnson that when it comes to grand juries failing to indict Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, he cannot say anything that would compromise ongoing Justice Department investigations. Fair, but when discussing those protestors, must he so ardently stress that they remain “peaceful?”
The protests that have taken place across the country have been overwhelmingly peaceful. The same cannot be said of the police departments who respond to protests about police brutality with gross displays of aggression. To put them on equal footing is to play into a false media narrative — the kind Obama so often deems inaccurate and distracting.
In any event, President Obama was encouraging to peaceful protestors, adding, “A country’s conscience has to be triggered by some inconvenience.” He went on to note for tackling the issue on a federal level, “In some ways we’ve made some progress over the last six years over a wide range of criminal justice issues.” Obama also spoke of his record as a state legislator in Illinois, where he helped pass a law that required the taping of murder confessions to thwart coercion.
And yet, he stressed that “change happens in increments, in stages,” as a means to “stay the course,” and “not to give up.”
I’m curious to know whether or not that point truly resonates with the young people who were watching. A friend of mine mentioned of the interview, “Soooo he can do 106 & Park but can’t take his ass to Ferguson? Got it.”
Interestingly enough, during a teleconference held by the youth activists that were invited to the White House, when asked if it’s too late for Obama to visit Ferguson, Ashley Yates said,“That’s too little, too late. What we need him to do now is him use the power of his position, the power of the highest office of the land to enact some real change.”
Even here, this interview felt too little, too late. Those among the very age group to which 106 & Park appeals most already have started mobilizing on their own. It would’ve been more powerful if Obama did a live, televised forum with the Black kids who actually have to live with the threat of police brutality on a daily basis.
That moment may have since passed, but as Yates said, what is needed of him now is to use the power of his position to enact some real change. Words matter, but poor timing can lessen how much they do.