As Racial Tensions Grow, the President Is Asked to Speak Up

Amy Chozick December 22, 2014NYT FD

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Good Monday morning from Washington, where President Obama is under pressure to address growing racial tensions after the fatal shootings of two New York City police officers. In Brooklyn, Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, placed flowers at a memorial to the officers. Reacting to the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, Republicans are calling on Mr. Obama to take a firmer stance against North Korea. Also, we review 2014 with a slide show of our Washington staff’s best photographs.

President Obama is facing renewed pressure to respond to racial tensions that have been building since the police shooting this summer of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and that took another turn with an African-American man’s fatal ambush of two New York officers over weekend.

When he was elected in 2008, Mr. Obama – the son of a black father and a white mother – was hailed as a leader who could bridge lingering racial divides. Instead, he finds himself serving during a time of heightened tensions, with a Bloomberg Politics poll released early this month in which 53 percent of respondents said race relations had grown worse during Mr. Obama’s tenure.

For the most part, the president has responded with caution, in stark contrast to the soaring language he issued to discuss racial issues during the 2008 presidential campaign. And he has faced widespread conservative criticism when he has tried to address the issue – as when he said if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon amid the uproar over Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida and his killer’s acquittal.

When asked on Friday about racial issues during his end-of-year news conference, Mr. Obama replied, Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office.

Mr. Obama has declined to respond directly to African-Americans who have said in recent weeks that they’d like to hear more from him on the topic.

If critics want to suggest that America is inherently and irreducibly racist, then why bother even working on it? he told reporters on Friday.