The Pointless Theater On ABC’s Conversation On Race Town Hall

July 15, 2016  |  

ABC’s Conversation on Race Town Hall with President Obama was really a waste of primetime.

I am disappointed in our President. There is no better way to say it.

I mean, the whole thing felt like an hour-long infomercial for President Obama’s My Brothers Keeper program.

In the midst of chastising the community for being reactionary to headline making instances of police violence and harassment, nothing was mentioned about how his own Department Of Justice’s report showed that Ferguson routinely used its police department to generate revenue for the city.

And in the midst of admonishing poor and Black people to do better so we don’t have run-ins with police, there was nothing mentioned about how well-educated and affluent White people poisoned the water in Flint.

Nawh, President Obama did a whole bunch of, “yeah we know the cops are killing us, but what about Black on Black crime? Also, All Lives Matter…”

I’m being factious. But for a whole hour, I watched President Obama tactfully divert, punt, pass, and dismiss any real questions about the state of policing in America – not that there was anything remotely “real” about the questions being asked.

If you haven’t also heard, Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, the cigarette man who was choked to death by Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo, stormed out of the town hall meeting with the President after accusing ABC of using her for ratings.

As reported by Buzzfeed:

Erica Garner said the agreement with ABC News was that she’d get to ask a question about the Justice Department’s investigation into her father’s death — something the network refutes.

That was the agreement before I called my brother and sisters and before we got on the train to head to D.C. to do the town hall,” she said.

She added that she was particularly annoyed because she cleared her schedule to come to Washington amid planning for the two-year anniversary of her father’s death.”

Audience members tell Buzzfeed that after she left the townhall, Garner could be heard screaming in frustration at cameras – only feet away from the president. It was awkward, to say the least.

But as Buzzfeed also reports, part of her outburst had to do with the following:

The version of what was promised to Erica Garner and her family is disputed by ABC News. But Erica Garner told BuzzFeed News she was also angered by another development: The network sat her next to family members of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, who were killed in an ambush days after a grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who applied the chokehold immediately before Eric Garner’s death.

Erica Garner was not comfortable with ABC News’ decision.”

Who in their right minds, would be? Let me tell you something: if it were me, and ABC pulled some crap, they would have gotten the show they were looking for: The Jerry Springer Show.

Unfortunately, that is not even the worse offense of the night.

That distinction occurred during the question and answer segment featuring Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds, who appeared live via satellite. Reynolds couldn’t attend the town hall meeting in person because she had just finished burying her long-time boyfriend Philando Castile who was fatally shot by a Falcon Heights, Minnesota officer while reaching for his ID.

Anyway, Reynolds who was visibly shaken and nervous, likely about being on television with President Obama, asked:

“How do we as a nation stopped what has happened to my family, and all of the other victims across the world?”

To which President Obama responded:

“Well, we appreciate you appearing. I know this is a difficult time. My heart goes out to all of the families who have been impacted. And I can only imagine what you’re going through – and that is true of everybody who has been impacted over the last week and a half. I think that the place to start is for everybody to recognize that we need police officers. And we need those police officers to be embraced by the community. If there are good relationships between the police and those communities, then the community will be safer and the police officers will be safer. It’s good for everybody. So we should have a common goal.

In order to make sure that we reduce the number of incidents like we’ve seen, there are a couple of things we know work: number one, the more police officers know the community, and get to know these communities ahead of time, the more trust is built.

Point number two, police officers that are doing the best work, are also training their officers, not just on shooting; not just the technical aspects on police work, but they are also training officers on how do we get rid of our explicit biases? And we all have them. White folks have them. Black folks have them. We all carry around with us some assumptions about other people. And if we are honest with ourselves, because of the history of our country, and because of the images that we receive growing up and etc, often times there is a presumption that Black men are dangerous. And that has to be worked through. And police officers who are getting that training, end up being able to engage and deescalate more encounters more effectively. So that’s the second point.

Number three, we have to provide police officers more resources so that they can implement some of these best practices. The fact of the matter is training is expensive. They’ve got budgets. They’ve got the proper equipment to protect themselves. We have to make sure there are enough police so that we don’t feel undermanned. We’ve got to make sure the police have due process; they’ve got a tough job.

But we have to have the confidence that if something happens, it is going to be investigated fairly and properly. So there is a whole bunch of components to this. And we all have an obligation to participate. It just can’t be all on the police. It also got to be on the community. It also got to be on civil leaders, it’s got to be on churches, it’s got to be on elected officials to try to create these kinds of conversations before a crisis happen. Because we wait until something bad happens and then we react. And then everybody is emotions are high and everybody’s angry and hurt. And what we want to do is have these conversations before…”

And this is coming from the first Black president who waited 7.5 years into his presidency to hold himself accountable through a reactionary television conversation on race. Girl, I can’t…

Also to Obama’s other points: I’m pretty certain the Falcon Heights police department knew Castile very well considering he was pulled over by them 52 times in the last 14 years.

And let’s forget about giving these cops “time” to work through their biases. These people have guns and a legal right to snatch you off the streets if they want to (and worse, a system that will back them up). Instead of giving these bad cops time to figure out if they like you or not, how just not hire any of these guys in the first place. And yes, I’m talking about better screening.

And also, how much more of our money, aka “the resources” do we need to give these cops so that they will understand that they can’t harass and kill us? They already got tanks, body armor, machine guns and even robots. They want money? Take all of those weapons of mass destruction they own to the nearest pawn shop and sell it. Because that sounds like extortion.

The only thing that I agree with Obama with is the idea that the community is entitled to due process. And quite honestly, if he knew he wasn’t going to have anything of value to say than that’s where his answer to Reynold’s question should have started and stopped.

Seriously, what a horrible response to a woman who had the misfortune of videotaping the final movements of her long-time partner’s life. A man who, for all intents and purposes, was a decent and law-abiding citizen. A man who was educated, working and known for being respectful, was shot dead anyway.

Listen, I get that the president has to consider the opinions of all Americans. But are we not in the mix of folks classified as Americans too? Do our grievances not matter? Are they not worthy of serious policy consideration?

The funny thing is that there will never be a national conversation with those who oppose LGBTQ rights and the LGBTQ community. ABC would never provide a platform for those against feminists to tell women that our only purpose in life is to make men sandwiches. You know why? Because that would be ridiculous.

But only when it comes to the collective us are we asked to share our pain and platform with others.

Oh and in case, you are one of those “Well what can the president do about it, anyway?”

Let me remind you that there are most certainly some things in his power to do. He could have used that hour to call for establishing a permanent Special Prosecutor’s Office at the State level for cases of police violence. He could have called for an end of policing of minor offenses (i.e. broken window policies like the one that lead to Eric Garner’s death). He could have asked for departments across the country to end the quota on tickets and arrests. He could have called for any of these wonderful policies, which are listed (and taken from) Campaign Zero’s website.

He could have, if he really wanted to.

Charing Ball is a writer, cultural critic, free-thinker, slick-mouth feminist and queen of unpopular opinions from Philadelphia. To learn more, visit

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