According to Politico, President Barack Obama and White House aides discussed a possible trip to Ferguson, Missouri following a grand jury’s decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of a black teenager.
The White House decided that such a trip would be “complicated,” creating more headaches than benefits.
“We have done complicated trips before,” an aide told Politico. “But for us, it is more of a substantive way to take the challenges head-on.”
Obama has found himself especially scrutinized given the fact that he is the country’s first African American president. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank pointed out the opportunity Obama’s position offers.
“The nation’s first black president is in a unique position to quell protests, but also to give voice to legitimate grievances about the justice system,” he wrote Monday.
But that has also made him wary of becoming too embroiled in the often volatile political realm of race issues, lest he spark an unintended backlash and undermine the very cause he sought to boost.
And at this point, a Ferguson trip by Obama might be “too little, too late,” as one activist told reporters on Tuesday.
“What we need him to do now is him use the power of his position, the power of the highest office of the land to enact some real change,” Ashley Yates of Millennial Activists United said, according to the Associated Press.
She added that his physical presence was not what protesters are looking for: “He should have done that 100 days ago.”
President Obama did meet with young activists like Yates at the White House on Monday, after convening his cabinet to review law enforcement practices that have been criticized as discriminatory and overly militarized. Obama will issue an executive order that revises procurement guidelines for local law enforcement when using federal funds.
Those discussions and modest measures seem to indicate that the president is more concerned with incremental steps forward rather than directly engaging Ferguson as a national test case on race tensions.
“Ferguson laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis,” he told reporters on Monday.
That perspective likely makes an Obama trip to Ferguson a long shot now. With protesters unconvinced of its utility and the White House afraid of its pitfalls, the president seems intent on doing whatever he can to move policy from Washington.