ABC News’ Jake Tapper Reports: Addressing the Hampton University Annual Ministers’ Conference in Hampton, Virginia, Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., discussed poverty and implied the Bush administration has been ignoring serious issues of poverty and hopelessness in the U.S. — what he termed “quiet riots.”
The man angling to become the first African-American president in history pointed out that 19 months after Hurricane Katrina — and 15 years after the Los Angeles riots, “the homes haven’t been built, the businesses haven’t returned, and those same communities are still drowning and smoldering under the same hopelessness as before the tragedy hit.”
Though Obama discussed the Los Angeles riots and the response to Hurricane Katrina, he only directly addressed race as a factor twice.
Once was to decry, listing a litany of problems, that the U.S. has “more black men in prison than are in our colleges and universities.”
The other time was to say that he didn’t think the Bush administration was guilty of racism — just indifference.
“People ask me whether I thought race was the reason the response was so slow,” Obama said. “I said, ‘No. This Administration was colorblind in its incompetence.’ But everyone here knows the disaster and the poverty happened long before that hurricane hit. All the hurricane did was make bare what we ignore each and every day which is that there are whole sets of communities that are impoverished, that don’t have meaningful opportunity, that don’t have hope and they are forgotten. This disaster was a powerful metaphor for what’s gone on for generations.”
Obama instead focused on hopelessness and poverty.
Discussing the Los Angeles riots, Obama said “most of the ministers here know that those riots didn’t erupt over night; there had been a ‘quiet riot’ building up in Los Angeles and across this country for years.
If you had gone to any street corner in Chicago or Baton Rouge or Hampton — you would have found the same young men and women without hope, without miracles, and without a sense of destiny other than life on the edge — the edge of the law, the edge of the economy, the edge of family structures and communities.”
Those “quiet riots,” Obama said, “take place every day (and) are born from the same place as the fires and the destruction and the police decked out in riot gear and the deaths. They happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold and young people all across this country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get any better,” Obama said.
“You tell yourself, my school will always be second rate. You tell yourself, there will never be a good job waiting for me to excel at. You tell yourself, I will never be able to afford a place that I can be proud of and call my home. That despair quietly simmers and makes it impossible to build strong communities and neighborhoods. And then one afternoon a jury says, ‘Not guilty’ — or a hurricane hits New Orleans — and that despair is revealed for the world to see.”
Obama used the same “quiet riots” language when addressing the National Conference of Black Mayors in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on May 5.