You know, the challenge of Ferguson and all issues related to police shootings, race, and the criminal-justice system is that in order to actually get something done, you have to build consensus. Expressing simple outrage without follow-up is often counterproductive. In the case of Ferguson, I’m the attorney general’s boss. If I chime in with a strong opinion about what’s happened, not only do I stand to potentially damage subsequent law-enforcement cases, but immediately you get blowback and backlash that may make people less open to listening. What was different in Charleston was the clarity of what happened—that allowed, I think, everybody to be open to it.
Yes, sometimes it’s feel. Sometimes the circumstances won’t give you a clean statement. The fact that race has always been the fault line of our society and has always distorted our politics—that is not subject to argument. Part of what you’re looking for is a way not to just vent but to actually move the people. I practiced law for a while—a lot of times, hard cases can make bad law. If you have an issue that you want to put forward, you’re looking for the right plaintiff and the right court to appear before. I do think as you go on as president, you get a better feel for this, but you’re not always going to be perfect. When the Trayvon Martin case happened, I had an honest response as a father that I think resonated with a lot of people. When Ferguson happened, there was a gap between how quickly we could pull together a police task force, recommendations. And so in that lag, it feels as if I haven’t spoken to the moment as effectively. I suspect that if I were to do it over again, there might be something I could say that would’ve crystallized it more effectively. But Ferguson—the case itself was tougher because people didn’t know what was going on exactly. In some ways the [Eric] Garner case in New York was clearer because you had on videotape exactly what had happened, and some of the subsequent cases have been more obvious.