President Obama wrote an open letter to “the brave members of our nation’s law-enforcement community” on Tuesday. Released without the usual publicity blitz of presidential initiatives, the letter feels like an executive hug. But it comes from a commander in chief who has recently been caught in a superficial and false dichotomy that pits black lives against blue lives, most recently in a terse exchange with Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick during ABC’s televised town hall last week.
“The police officers in Texas know without question, regardless of their political party, that they have my support, and I have their back,” Patrick, a Republican, said to the president. After acknowledging Obama’s overall commitment to law enforcement, he asked, “Do they really, in their heart, feel like you’re doing everything you can to protect their lives?” The hour-long and softly choreographed discussion covered police brutality, crime in communities, and tensions between civilians and those tasked with protecting them. The room was packed with survivors, advocates, law-enforcement officers, and families who have much to gain and lose in the process.
The subtext of Patrick’s question, one that some have openly asked, is, “What side are you on, Mr. President?” The problem with this implicit binary is that Obama does not seem to see the messy, and at times deadly, conflicts among black Americans, protesters, and police as being between two sides.