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For President Obama, Race Is a Personal Issue

The racial violence in the city of Ferguson, Missouri is an important issue for Barack Obama, the first African-American president. Mr. Obama has asked protestors to stop fighting with police. And he has called for calm and understanding. But violent protests continue.

The protestors are angry about the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer. Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown on August 9th.

The president returned to the White House this week in the middle of a planned vacation. He met with Attorney General Eric Holder. Mr. Holder is leading the federal civil rights investigation of the shooting. After the meeting, the president spoke about the problems of race relations in America.

"To a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other. Let's seek to heal rather than to wound each other. As Americans we've gotta use this moment to seek our shared humanity that's been laid bare by this moment."

In 2012, another unarmed black teenager was shot and killed. After that shooting, the president spoke about how the country's poor race relations affect black men.

"There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping at a department store. That includes me. There are very few African- American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator."

Greg Carr is a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and the head of the university's Afro-American studies department. He says the rate of deaths of black babies is higher than white newborns. And he says there is a higher rate of imprisonment for blacks than for whites, as well as lower income and education levels. He says the election of America's first black president did not change race relations in the country.

"Regardless of the color of the occupant of the Oval Office -- certainly with President Obama in office and Attorney General Eric Holder, there perhaps is an expectation that there may be more swift action taken to resolve some of these issues or to at least to try to deal with some of the issues in real time. However, that expectation is tenuous 'cause after all we understand that Barack Obama is not the president of black America -- as he frequently reminds us -- he's the president of the United States of America."

President Obama is sending the attorney general to Ferguson to meet with those who are carrying out the federal investigation into the death of the teenager. Mr. Obama says he hopes the investigation will reveal the truth about the shooting. And he hopes that truth will bring peace to Ferguson and will help reduce the nation's racial tensions.

I'm Christopher Cruise.

This story was based on a report by VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez. It was written for Learning English by Christopher Cruise, who also narrated the report. It was edited by Caty Weaver.


Words in the News

healv. to return to good health; to cure; to become well

violence n. the use of force to cause injury, death or damage

relations - n. understandings or ties between nations; members of the same family; people connected by marriage or family ties

vacation - n. a holiday; a period of time for travel, pleasure or rest, especially one with pay given to an employee

investigate - v. to search for the truth; investigation - n. the act or action of searching for the truth

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