The anguish and protest of Baltimore's underserved communities are personal to President Obama. But that doesn't mean he plans to visit the city anytime soon.
In an interview aired Wednesday morning, Obama told radio host Steve Harvey that when he travels, "I take a lot of assets out of where they need to be," and during times of crisis, he tries to let responders on the ground do their work. But he nevertheless highlighted the connection he feels to what's driving the city's recent unrest. In recent days, communities in Baltimore have been reeling after the death of Freddie Gray, a young man killed after a confrontation with police.
"The communities in Baltimore that are having these problems now are no different from the communities in Chicago when I first started working" as a community organizer, Obama said. "I've seen this movie too many times before."
Obama has been called on to visit similarly affected cities before. After 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer last summer, Obama didn't respond to calls for a trip, and members of Congress from the state supported his staying away, lest he distract security from places in need and from local officials' work. In his stead, Obama dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to the city. In Baltimore, local and Justice Department officials too have their work cut out for them.
Obama taped his interview on The Steve Harvey Morning Show on Tuesday afternoon, after tumult in Baltimore over the previous day had drawn an increased law-enforcement presence and after making his first public remarks on the subject at a joint press conference with the Japanese prime minister.
Obama told Harvey that the problems in Baltimore—and in communities like it—must be tackled at the society level, and not just focus on issues with individual police departments. Community neglect, disinvestment, and joblessness, he said, all contribute to tensions in underserved communities, and building up Baltimore and cities like it will require a "political movement" around programs for job training and better infrastructure.
If all that's focused on is retraining officers to combat police brutality, "but not dealing with some of these underlying issues, then these problems are going to crop up again," he said.
Between the taping and airing of Obama's interview, Baltimore calmed down. Tuesday night—the first evening during which the Baltimore mayor's 10 p.m. citywide curfew was implemented—saw little violence compared with previous days. Just 10 people were arrested after the curfew went into effect—in comparison with Monday's overnight count of more than 200 arrests—and the city police commissioner indicated to reporters that "citizens are safe" and Baltimore is "stable."
During his talk with Harvey, Obama indicated that the issues within these communities need to be considered in the long term.
Helping mend the damage "requires some sustained focus," he said. "We're not going to change this overnight, but we can make progress."
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