May 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Obama faced "constraints" as president to condemn killings of Black Americans

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a drive-in rally while campaigning for Democratic nominee Joseph Biden, on October 21, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Former President Obama in Philadelphia in October. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Former President Obama said Wednesday that "institutional constraints" stopped him from speaking out against the killings of Black Americans when he was in office.

Driving the news: The former president made the comments during the My Brother's Keeper Leadership Forum, which discussed activism since the May 2020, murder of George Floyd.

What he's saying: "There were some frustrations for me in my institutional role," Obama said, citing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal 2014 shooting of Black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

  • "I went as far as I could just commenting on cases like Trayvon Martin," he said of the Black teenager shot and killed by then-neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2012.
  • Obama explained that in those instances he did "not in any way want to endanger" the Justice Department in its "capacity to go in, investigate and potentially charge perpetrators."
  • This meant he "could not come down or appear to come down decisively in terms of guilt or innocence in terms of what happened," the former president added.

Of note: Obama noted that when he won in 2012, he didn't have congressional or gubernatorial majorities, which prevented him from pushing through social justice reforms.

  • "All the reform initiatives that we were coming up with, and the ideas that had been generated, we weren't able to translate into as bold a set of initiatives as I would have wanted," he said.
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