A day ahead of President Obama’s trip to Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a new poll shows that nearly half of Americans believe race relations have worsened over the course of his presidency.
Thirty-nine percent believe relations between blacks and whites have worsened since Mr. Obama took office, while 15 percent say race relations have improved and 45 percent say they have stayed the same, according to the CNN/ORC poll. Forty-five percent of whites and 26 percent of blacks think they have worsened.
The survey of 1,027 American adults was conducted Feb. 12-15 — before a Department of Justice report released this week found systemic racial discrimination in the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department. The Justice Department also announced that it would not bring federal civil rights charges against white police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of black 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer in a case that ignited widespread protests and renewed debates over relations between law enforcement and the African-American community, as well as police militarization in the country.
Mr. Obama said in a new radio interview that while he doesn’t think the situation in Ferguson is typical, it’s not isolated, either.
“I don’t think that is typical of what happens across the country but it’s not an isolated incident,” he said in an interview on Sirius XM’s “Urban View” with Joe Madison.
“I think there are circumstances in which trust between communities and law enforcement have broken down, and individuals or entire departments may not have the training or the accountability to make sure that they are protecting and serving all people and not just some,” he said.
Mr. Obama also said that while the country has made strides since the civil rights era, there is still work to be done.
“I think that the generation that has followed the civil rights generation has in many ways made great strides in part just by walking through the doors of opportunity that those giants helped to open up,” he said.
“I also think we all recognize that there continues to be challenges that require not just individuals living well and raising good kids, but requires collective action and mobilization,” he said. “On some of those areas, I think we haven’t done everything we can do.”
In the interview, Mr. Obama called on Congress to pass and renew a Voting Rights Act. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the act tied to a requirement for a handful of mostly southern states and other localities across the country to clear voting practice changes with the federal government.
“When it comes to voting, we still see big chunks of the community disenfranchised. Part of that is the responsibility of Congress to pass and renew a Voting Rights Act, the seminal capstone of the civil rights movement and the march on Selma,” Mr. Obama said.
“When you think about the mighty battles that were fought, the notion that you’d only have a third or a half of African-Americans voting at this stage, that is not living up to the legacy that has been presented,” Mr. Obama said.
Fifty-one percent of people in the CNN/ORC poll said they believe the Voting Rights Act remains necessary to make sure that blacks are allowed to vote, while 47 percent say it’s no longer needed. More than three-quarters of blacks say it is necessary, compared to 48 percent of whites who say so.
Fifty percent think the nation’s criminal justice system favors whites over blacks and 42 percent believe it treats both equally. Again, those numbers were split along racial lines: 76 percent of African-Americans say the system favors whites, compared to 42 percent of whites who think so.