The activists who met with Obama called the meeting "historic," but they also pushed back against some of the administration's suggestions and presented their own list of demands for "tangible" change. They also rejected some of Obama's comments following the looting and arsons last week, which they said "criminalized" their movement.
They brought us to speak truth to power. And the truth of being a (young) Black person in America isn't pretty or soft.
— BrownBlaze (@brownblaze)December 2, 2014
The activists demanded "some truth-telling" from the president, Ashley Yates, an organizer with Millennial Activists United and one of the leaders of the Ferguson protests said in a call with reporters following the meeting. The activists asked the president "to be real about the situation that we're facing, to be real about the reasons why people have been out there for 115 days," Yates said. "A lot of people have been awakened to the fact that our lives don't really hold value in this American society."Promises and Demands
If you are looking for someone to sugarcoat this reality for you: it's not me. Ain't nothing sweet about this police state we live in.
— BrownBlaze (@brownblaze)December 2, 2014
While welcoming the steps outlined by the president, activists said they were just that — small steps — and that more serious policy reform was needed in order to instill an even more challenging "change of thought process," as Yates put it.
As for the multi-billion 1033 program — which Obama said he will sign review via executive order to make sure "that we're not building a militarized culture inside our local law enforcement," — activists said they found it "unbelievable" that such a review did not already exist.And they said they want the military equipment gone from police departments altogether."[The review] is nice but we still have information that there are approximately 400,000 pieces of military equipment spread out throughout the US right now, including 5,000 Humvees, which I can say from personal experience are very intimidating," Yates said. "It's a form of psychological torture to walk down your street and see Humvees… We know that this is a program that doesn't actually work."
'We need real accountability. A camera is only gonna provide a game tape of me being murdered.'
Meeting with the group, President Obama promised to deliver real change before he leaves office in two years. To start, Holder, who has so far been the face of the administration's response to Ferguson, announced Monday that in the coming days the DOJ will release new guidelines to limit racial profiling by federal law enforcement."The new guidance will codify our commitment to the very highest standards of fair and effective policing," Holder said Monday before he was briefly interrupted by protesters. Some members of the audience held signs that said "No Justice, No Peace," and "Eric Holder Do Your Job.""This whole emphasis on this issue was born of a tragedy but it presents this nation with an opportunity," the attorney general said later, during a meeting with law enforcement officials. "It's incumbent on all of us to seize that opportunity."
The activists want facts, not gestures, Yates added. Obama's absence from Ferguson was criticized early on, but the activists said they don't particularly care at this point whether the president visits. White House officials said this week there are no plans for the president to head to St. Louis anytime soon — and Yates said that would be "too little too late" anyway."What we need to see now is him using the power of his position, the power of the highest office in the land, to enact some real change," Yates said. "We have been on the ground making the changes that we can in our communities, but these are high level changes that we need to see. These are systemic issues and we need systemic solutions for them."
The president made no mention of his race during his remarks after the meeting, but protesters said they want recognition that Brown's killing in Ferguson — and dozens of incidents like it across the country — were about race."Why is it so difficult for you to display a moment of honesty and reflection to the public about your own blackness?" Tef Poe, a St. Louis rapper and leader of the Ferguson protests wrote in a scathing open letter to Obama this week."[In St. Louis] you don't have any constitutional rights, you can throw that right out the window," Tef Poe said Tuesday on the call with reporters. "They would put the gun in the president's face."
Others criticized the president for his overly careful language, even "emotional blindness," in addressing the problem. "When any part of the American family does not feel like it is being treated fairly, that's a problem for all of us," Obama said Monday.But protesters in Ferguson say the point is that people are treated unfairly — and it's a recognition of that reality they most wanted from the president.
'We don't need him to come and put boots on the ground, he should have done that 100 days ago.'