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Columnist: Obama Has Failed Places Like Ferguson


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. There was a demonstration last night outside the Ferguson Police Department. More than a dozen people were arrested after two nights of relative calm in Ferguson. Steven Thrasher is a columnist for The Guardian newspaper. He wrote a sharp column this week that questioned the role of the president of the United States in addressing the issues raised by Ferguson. Mr. Thrasher now joins us from New York. Thank you very much for being with us.

STEVEN THRASHER: Thank you so much for having me, Scott.

SIMON: I characterize this column as very sharp, and I want to give you the chance to speak for yourself. Why do you feel that President Obama has failed African-Americans?

THRASHER: Certainly, Scott. I was disappointed in the president, and it pains me to say that because I feel like he hasn't been as practically engaged as he could be and certainly not as emotionally engaged as he could be. And I know that he will take flak when he does step in to race, as he did when he spoke a little bit about Trayvon Martin. But he certainly - took a long time for him to address this case. And when he did so, he was repeating fictions and creating equivalencies that were disturbing. It was hard to hear him say that Ferguson was an anomaly, that we shouldn't think that this is something that everyone has to deal with when it is. These kinds of police tactics and over-policing of black communities is the norm. Ferguson is not unusual in that respect.

SIMON: You call on President Obama to go to Ferguson. What, in your judgment, would that accomplish?

THRASHER: I think that it would place the importance of what's happening in a different league. Right now we really see - in discourse about this issue around the country, we really see it sort of as an issue of protesters versus law enforcement. And right now the law enforcement that's speaking and the way the state is speaking has been through this local prosecutor who's basically said that there is nothing to what Officer Wilson did. And I think having the president of the United States go there would lead some credence to the fact that people have been protesting now for a hundred days and make their claims seem a bit more legitimate. So to not have him going and engaged with it I think gives it some distance and makes it seem not as important as I think it really is.

SIMON: Should you expect the kind of changes you're talking about from the president or do they need to come from activism elsewhere?

THRASHER: I think, Scott, you've pointed something out quite right. I don't think that activists have to look to the president. I think activists should look to activists in other parts of the country as we clearly see with demonstrations going around. But most of all I think that marginalized groups and activists around the country should be looking to the young people in Ferguson. They've been sustaining nightly protests - mostly nonviolent - and they have shown us when we are inclined to think that civil rights leaders need to have a certain resume or come from a certain background, but they don't have to be - that you can be a young person who has a record or be a young person who has not, you know, gone to college and still really be somebody who can affect things, because the young people on the streets there come from all different backgrounds, but they're not just from only, you know, one slice of life.

SIMON: Steven Thrasher is a columnist with The Guardian. Thanks very much for speaking with us.

THRASHER: Thank you very much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.