Like President Obama, outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick knows what it's like as an African-American elected official to be held to a higher standard on issues of race. The president, Patrick said, is in a "really, really tough place" trying to balance his response to the crisis in Ferguson and serving as president to the whole nation.
Early on in his first term, the governor recalled on this week's Meet the Press, he was in a similar position after "a marvelous kid from a marvelous family" was killed in what appeared to have been a gang-related incident.
"The mother in her anguish called me out in the media and said, you know, where is the governor?" Patrick said. "Now, governors aren’t normally expected to come to street crime scenes. She hadn’t called out the mayor. But we had run a very grassroots campaign, so we’d engaged a lot of people. And the expectations of me, by virtue of being a Black elected official, were different. And I had to learn that. And ultimately, I did go out."
Obama has received some criticism about his response to events as they've unfolded in Ferguson. Some are waiting to hear him speak in the deeply personal and emotional way that he did after George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing teenager Trayvon Martin. Others say he needs to visit the troubled St. Louis suburb to comfort a community that has been aching and imploding since the Aug. 9 tragedy.
Patrick suspects that the president wants very much to visit Ferguson, but the ongoing federal investigation into the shooting prohibits that.
"It’s not because I know that, I just sense that knowing the — knowing the man, I think he’d like to be there to comfort the family of Michael Brown, who are having to relive this tragedy all over again, and to reassure both the community at large and the community of law enforcement," the governor said. I think the reason it’s a quandary is because the federal government is investigating right now, and you don’t want to appear to influence that investigation."
Like many African-American leaders, Patrick was disappointed that the grand jury in Ferguson did not indict police officer Darren Wilson, who resigned from the force last weekend.
"A trial and the transparency of a trial would be good for the community and because so many of us have the supposition that police officers are not going to be held accountable, are not going to have to answer for the shooting of unarmed young black teenagers," he said. "But the facts and the process, as the president says, does have to be respected. That is separate and apart from the anxiety so many Black people have about encounters with law enforcement, the anxiety that some in law enforcement have about their encounters with Black people and a startling lack of understanding between the two."
He is glad that the Department of Justice is conducting a civil rights investigation, but warned that the bar is even higher in a federal inquiry.
"It’s a consideration about whether there’s been a violation of civil or constitutional rights that is different from what the grand jury in a state prosecution has to consider," explained Patrick, who worked in DOJ's criminal justice division during the Clinton administration. "And it’ll be a tough case to prove. I say that without knowing all the puts and takes of the case and what all the facts are. It’ll be very difficult."
Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.
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(Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire/Getty Images)