President Barack Obama spoke candidly in his eighth and final interview Monday night with David Letterman, telling the “Late Show” host that while the country is “leaps and bounds better than it was when I was born,” America still has a ways to go in confronting poverty and racism.
“Too many don’t have a relationship of trust with police,” Obama said after Letterman asked him about the unrest in Baltimore, which saw weeks of protests after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died of an injury he sustained in police custody. “It creates an environment in the community where instead of being protected and served, they’re the targets of unwarranted stops and arrests.”
“This is not just a policing problem. What you have are pockets of poverty,” he continued, noting that most police officers are upstanding citizens. “Too often we ignore those pockets until something happens, and then we act surprised.”
Obama, who was in the Bronx earlier Monday to unveil a new private sector-funded expansion of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which seeks to provide incentives and opportunities for young men of color in high-risk areas to improve their lives, also made appearances at two separate Democratic National Committee fundraising events in Manhattan – one with about 60 supporters contributing $10,000 each, and another with about 30 supporters contributing $33,400 each.
“If young African American men are being shot but it’s not affecting us, we’ll just kind of paper that over,” Obama told Letterman, referring to the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. “And part of the message I’m trying to deliver is, you’ve got a crisis in these communities that’s been going on for years.”
“We’ve created an approach to drugs that leads to mass incarcerations, and then no father figures in these communities,” he added, noting that society needs to invest in jobs and education for young people of color. “That kind of sustained effort is what we have to see in this country, not just episodic spasms of interest when something tragic happens.”
Obama, the first sitting president to appear on Letterman’s show, has become a fixture on the late night circuit during his presidency, often using the comedy format to urge younger Americans to sign up for health insurance. Monday’s interview was his last with Letterman as the “Late Show” host prepares to step down on May 20 after 22 years at the helm, clearing the way for former “Colbert Report” star Stephen Colbert to take his place.