During a day of appearances in New York, President Barack Obama on Monday blamed a lack of opportunity in minority communities and harsher treatment of black and Hispanic men by police for fueling a sense of "unfairness and powerlessness."
He called for a nationwide mobilization to reverse inequality and said the cause will remain a mission for the rest of his presidency and his life. "There are consequences to indifference," Obama said.
Helping launch a foundation to assist young minorities, Obama said the catalysts of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Baltimore were the deaths of young black men and "a feeling that law is not always applied evenly in this country."
"They experience being treated differently by law enforcement — in stops and in arrests, and in charges and incarcerations," Obama said. "The statistics are clear, up and down the criminal justice system. There's no dispute."
The new organization, My Brother's Keeper Alliance, is an outgrowth of a White House initiative, which has focused on federal government policies and grants designed to increase access to education and jobs.
Although the effort predates the tensions in Baltimore that erupted after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, the significance of the new private-sector alliance has been magnified by the spotlight the riots placed on low-income minority neighborhoods.
“Folks living in those communities, and especially young people living in those communities, could use some help to change those odds,” Obama said.
Obama repeatedly drove home the point during his 10-hour visit to New York, echoing the same themes from his speech at Lehman College in the Bronx to high-dollar Democratic Party fundraisers in Manhattan to an appearance on CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman.”
“For far too long, for decades, we have a situation where too many communities don't have a relationship of trust with the police,” he told Letterman. He said he wants young minority men in particular to know “we're going to invest in you before you have problems with the police, before there's the kind of crisis we see in Baltimore.”
Obama said the effects of slavery, Jim Crowe laws and discrimination in American history have left minority communities at a disadvantage.
“We don't have to accuse everybody of racism today to acknowledge that as part of our past. And if we want to get past that, everybody has to make a little bit of extra effort,” Obama said.
He tied the call for justice with an economic message for the 60 donors who paid $10,000 to see him at an expansive, art-filled Upper East Side apartment — including actor Wendell Pierce, who played a Baltimore police detective working in drug-ridden projects on “The Wire.”
Obama later held a discussion with about 30 donors contributing up to $33,400. That event was closed to the media.
Despite his criticism of inequities in criminal justice, Obama praised police officers for putting their lives on the line and singled out Brian Moore, a 25-year-old New York City police officer fatally shot in the head over the weekend while attempting to stop a man suspected of carrying a handgun.
“We ask police to go into communities where there is no hope,” he said at Lehman College. “Eventually, something happens because of the tension between society and these communities, and the police are just on the front lines of that.”
The White House sought to distinguish the operation of the organization from Bill and Hillary Clinton's family foundation, whose financing has attracted criticism. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said My Brother's Keeper Alliance would be responsible for determining its own fundraising policies.
The nonprofit, to be headed by Joe Echevarria, former chief executive of consulting firm Deloitte, will develop guidance for companies to increase access to jobs for racial minorities.