African-American leaders meet with President Obama

McClatchy Washington BureauFebruary 18, 2014 


President Barack Obama meets with African American Civil Rights group leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.


President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder met Tuesday with a group of African-American civil rights leaders, discussing income inequality and jobs, voter suppression and controversial state laws like Florida's Stand Your Ground.

Several African-American leaders have been critical of Obama for not doing more to address the African-American jobless rate in particular. But Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, said the meeting was substantive.

"We are very parallel with the president's plans in many of these areas," Sharpton said. He suggested much of the frustration in the black community is aimed at the "resistance and blocking" demonstrated by Congress.

"I think the media likes to overplay some frustrations..." Sharpton said, noting Obama was reelected with a healthy African-American vote in 2012. "Is there some frustration? Yes, but a lot of it is directed at a Congress that refuses to deal with any of the agenda."

Sharpton said the black community has "deep concerns" about some criminal justice issues, including laws like Florida's Stand Your Ground law and that Obama "listened very attentively and commited to Holder review their concerns.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said the group -- which met with Obama for more than an hour -- presented him a document, the 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom, detailing a coalition of groups' priorities on health care, voting rights, education and other issues. "This agenda … aligns in many respects with the president's agenda," Morial said. "We talked extensively about the challenges of unemployment, the challenges of under-employment, the challenges of black and urban and brown unemployment in this nation."

He said the leaders were especially pleased that Obama is pushing Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10.

"We come today with that sense that this president's ear, this president's concern for our community is as strong as ever," Morial said.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said the group was pleased that Obama and Holder "stand united in some of the efforts to ensure that our criminal justice system reduces racial disparities."

She called it "bold" for Obama and Holder to use clemency to aid non violent offenders who were sentenced to long prison sentences before the fair sentencing act. She noted Obama granted clemency to 8 people late last year and is seeking more cases.

Justice earlier this year announced plans to identify non-violent prison inmates convicted of low-level drug charges who would be good clemency candidates.

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