President Barack Obama on Thursday gave a strong defense of Black Lives Matter, arguing that the movement's concerns about racial disparities in the criminal justice system are legitimate. He also clarified that the cause doesn't claim, as some critics allege, that only black lives matter — but rather that black lives are emphasized in the movement's slogan because black lives aren't currently treated as equal to other lives.
Here's a transcript of Obama's remarks, made during a forum hosted by the Marshall Project:
[Black Lives Matter] started being lifted up as these folks are opposed to police, and they're opposed to cops, and all lives matter. So the notion was that somehow saying black lives matter was reverse racism or suggesting that other people's lives didn't matter or police officers' lives didn't matter.
And whenever we get bogged down in that kind of discussion, we know where that goes — I mean, that's just down the old track.
So let me just suggest this: I think everybody understands all lives matter. Everybody wants strong, effective law enforcement. Everybody wants their kids to be safe when they're walking to school. Nobody wants to see police officers who are doing their job fairly hurt. Everybody understands it's a dangerous job.
I think the that reason that the organizers used the phrase "black lives matter" was not because they were suggesting nobody else's life matters. Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that's not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we've got to address.
I forget which French writer said there is a law that was passed that really was equal because both rich and poor were forbidden from stealing loaves of bread and sleeping under the bridge. … That's not a good definition of equality.
There is a specific concern as to whether African Americans are sometimes not treated in particular jurisdictions fairly or subject to excessive force more frequently.
I think it's important for those who are concerned about that to back it up with data, not anecdote; to not paint with a broad brush; to understand the overwhelming majority of law enforcement is doing the right thing and wants to do the right thing; to recognize that police officers have a really tough job and we're sending them into really tough neighborhoods that sometimes are really dangerous, and they've got to make split-second decisions. And so we shouldn't be too sanctimonious about situations that sometimes can be ambiguous.
But, having said all of that, we as a society — particularly given our history — have to take this seriously. And one of the ways of avoiding the politics of this and losing the moment is everybody just stepping back for a second and understanding that the African-American community is not just making this up. It's not just something being politicized. It's real, and there's a history behind it. And we have to take it seriously.