WASHINGTON ― President Barack Obama participated in an ABC News town hall on Thursday to discuss racism and police brutality, but many viewers saw it as a missed opportunity, saying there wasn’t nearly enough emphasis on the need for comprehensive police reform.
“The President and The People: A National Conversation,” an hour-long program, was hosted by “ABC World News Tonight” anchor David Muir and moderated by ESPN’s Jemele Hill and ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts.
The goal of the conversation was to address the black community’s relationship with police following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men who were shot and killed by police last week in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively.
But to some viewers, the discussion seemed to focus too much on what black people can do to avoid being targeted by law enforcement, and not enough on the need to shift police culture and hold officers accountable for excessive force.
Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter who attended the town hall, told The Huffington Post the event was a “shit show.”
“It was honestly one of the worst experiences you could’ve put families through,” she said. “It was all about apologizing about the cops, it was just a mess. They closed it off with a little black boy wanting to be a cop. It felt like a love fest for cops. The entire show was about respectability politics.”
In fairness, Obama did explain at one point that when people say “black lives matter,” they’re not saying that only black lives matter. He also acknowledged that black men face a “greater presumption of dangerousness” than other people, which makes their interactions with police much more fraught (although, of course, it’s not just black men who’ve been victims of police violence).
But a few of the president’s remarks stood out as slightly tone-deaf and out of line with the event’s billing.