President Barack Obama invited activists, legislators, and police officers to the White House on Wednesday afternoon for a four-hour table discussion surrounding the tense climate between minority communities and law enforcement.
According to The New York Times, the president re-arranged his schedule after his trip to Europe last week following the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five Dallas police officers that simultaneously shook the nation. The meeting took place one day after the president eulogized the slain officers.
Obama addressed the group, saying, “Not only are there very real problems, but there are still deep divisions about how to solve these problems.”
He also acknowledged both sides and their frustration.
“There is no doubt that police departments still feel embattled and unjustly accused,” Obama said. “And there is no doubt that minority communities, communities of color, still feel like it just takes too long to do what’s right.”
While Black men and women die each year in police custody, the president faces criticism from Black activists and advocates who say he doesn’t take a firm enough stand on racial injustice. He’s also received opposition from those who side with the legal system; they believe he jumps to conclusions by stirring the pot on perceived racial tension.
As America’s first Black president, Obama and his legacy remain in a peculiar position. On Wednesday, his objective aimed at opening the dialogue needed to strengthen trust and fuse together severed relationships.
“There’s still a diversity of views around this table, and that’s by design,” Obama said. “Not everybody agrees on everything.”
“We just have to as a country sit down and grind it out,” he stated.
At one point, tensions flared between law enforcement and activists. But by the end of the meeting, many walked away feeling that important first steps were taken.
Attendees included local and state public officials from Minnesota and Louisiana, two states affected by the recent deaths of Castile and Sterling, Cornell Brooks, President of the NAACP, and activists DeRay Mckesson and Al Sharpton.
A full list of attendees was tweeted out by West Wing Reports:
The president will take the conversation further on Thursday and address race relations during ABC’s Town Hall titled, “The President and The People: A National Conversation.” ABC’s World News Tonight anchor David Muir will moderate; ESPN’s Jemele Hill will co-host.