ABC News’ Sunlen Miller Reports from St. Petersburg, Florida: In the context of the presidential race dialogue this week, there was a poignant moment during Obama’s town hall in St Petersburg, Florida. Obama was challenged on his work for the African American community by a group of young African American protesters.
In the middle of unveiling his emergency economic stimulus plan, Senator Barack Obama was interrupted by three African American protestors in their early thirties.
Sitting strategically directly below the trademark "Change We Can Believe In" Obama signage, the protesters stood up and started yelling, unrolling a sign of their own: "What about the Black Community, Obama?" The website on their sign indicated the protesters were from International Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement, which fights for the democratic rights of the African people.
Obama rarely gets interrupted by protesters -– especially from the African American community –- and the Senator looked a little lost at first how to handle it, attempting to speak thought the booming voices behind him.
Stopping his remarks, Obama then chided the protesters, saying, "Excuse me young man, this is a town hall and you can ask your question later. . . . just be courteous and you’ll have a chance to make your statement, just relax."
An Obama staffer quickly swiped the sign out of the protesters hands -– as per the regulations by the Obama campaign, "no outside signs are allowed" into the their town halls. The rest of the crowd drowned out the protesters’ voices by chanting, "yes we can." Two secret service agents moved to stand close to the protesters.
After his prepared remarks, Obama gave the second question to one of the protesters.
"In the face of the numerous attacks that are made against the African community or the black community by the same US government that you aspire to lead. . . why is it that you have not had the ability to not one time speak to the interests and even speak on the behalf of the oppressed and exploited African community or Black community in this country?" asked lead protester Diop Olugbala, citing sub prime mortgages for African Americans, the Sean Bell case, and the Jena 6.
"I think you are misinformed about when you say ‘not one time,’" Obama responded, defending his record. "I’ve been talking about predatory lending for the last two years in the United States Senate and worked to pass legislation to prevent it when I wan in the state legislature. And I have repeatedly said that many of the predatory loans that were made in the mortgage system did target African American and Latino communities. I’ve said that repeatedly. Number two, Jena Six — I was the first candidate to get out there and say this is wrong, that there’s an injustice that’s been done and we need to change it. That’s number two. When Sean Bell got shot, I put out a statement immediately saying this is a problem."
Olugbala attempted to talk back while Obama was answering his question, but the microphone had been taken from the questioner and his voice was drowned out.
Obama concluded with a simple message for the protestors, "These are issues I’ve worked on for decades. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m always going to satisfy the way you guys want these issues framed. I understand that. Which gives you the option of voting for somebody else. It gives you the option of running for office yourself."
Senator Obama continued his town hall, and was interrupted a second time by a white woman who was also part of the Uhuru group in the crowd. Obama asked the woman to not start the yelling again, and then proceeded to take a question from another woman on education.
In an interview after the town hall, Olugbala said he was not satisfied with Senator Obama’s answer and will not vote for him.
"I thought it was revealing," Olugbala told ABC News, "Because he said out of his own mouth that although he has said things about the black community he has not put forth a response that really is representing what the people ourselves are feeling."