One of the proudest moments of my life was in December, when I had the opportunity to take my mother to the White House to meet not just any president, but the first black president and first lady. As an African-American man I fully understand and embrace the cultural celebration of President Barack Obama.
Black America continues to be the president’s firewall. Without black voter support and determination to show up at the polls on his behalf in 2008 and again 2012, it’s likely we would be talking about President Clinton, McCain or Romney today.
African-Americans are ever ready to stand up for President Obama against perceived mistreatment and disrespect of him by his political opposition. After all, few of us cannot recall a moment when we felt we were being undermined because of our race.
However, our community’s near solidarity in support of the president is probably only exceeded by our collective disdain for injustice; which is why the news of the Obama administration’s drone policy made me stop and think.
Through a Department of Justice memo, first obtained by NBC News, we learned that the Obama administration has determined it has the authority to kill a U.S. citizen on foreign soil using drones if the target is deemed to be a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda, and if it has been determined that they both pose “imminent threats” to the United States and that capturing the individual would not be feasible.
What’s troubling for some is that this policy of unilateral action leaves too much room for potential abuse. The thought that our government could kill Americans and ignore their constitutional right to a free and fair trial — all because some unnamed government official, who might divulge little or no reason for their suspicion, deems them an “imminent threat” — is disturbing to civil libertarians. It’s hard not to imagine the level of outrage and protest from Democrats and liberals if such a memo had been released under the Bush administration. Conservatives have a fair point when they say that George W. Bush faced far more scrutiny from liberals over his expansion of executive power.
To see so many African-Americans sit silently through such a revelation is astonishing. This unwavering support of this administration’s foreign and security policies requires that we ignore our historic skepticism of government and our general fear that it might misuse its power. The stories of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI wiretapping civil rights leaders and covert operations to infiltrate civil rights organizations are fresh within the African-American psyche, as are Tuskegee experiments and government-ordered sterilizations. Take a trip to Harlem and ask black folks who was responsible for the death of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X and you will hear people make a passionate argument for their belief that the U.S. government played a role.
I had the opportunity to talk to some friends who are Obama supporters about the “kill” memo. One said that President Obama “has to do what he has to do to keep the country safe.” The dinner conversation got a bit more tense when I suggested that mob lynching of black men, women, and boys without free and fair trials were performed using that very justification.
Even if we trust President Obama’s moral judgment, we must imagine these very same executive powers in the hands of subsequent presidents, some who might not have the privilege of our full faith. To be sure, there are many black Americans who are concerned about this administration’s foreign policies. But there is unspoken code that we should not speak ill of President Obama, especially in “mixed” company. Many of us have adopted the president into our hearts as our brother, uncle, or son.
But if he is truly like family to us, we must keep him honest. We ought not to believe that questioning his decisions or policies makes us any less proud of him.
Perhaps it makes it easier to accept a president who cares about our community’s domestic needs even if his policies may lead to the trampling of the rights of those who live in far off places we may never visit or think about.
Dr. King once said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Maybe we should have the same courage to question our government’s policies abroad today as we did when we questioned its domestic policies decades ago.