Obama urges mayors to confront racism, gun violence

U.S. President Barack Obama urged the country’s mayors assembled at the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s 83rd annual meeting in San Francisco Friday¬†afternoon to more openly discuss solutions to racism and gun violence.

Speaking in response to tragedies such as the massacre that occurred at an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, Obama said that mayors, more than anyone, are in a position to understand the toll that gun violence has on America. He said they know, more than anyone else, that “these tragedies have become far too commonplace.”

The president said that regardless of their political allegiances, the mayors should recognize that a lack of gun safety laws has led to gun violence that “tears the fabric of community” and that “it costs this country dearly.” It is not enough to simply show sympathy in the wake of an act of gun violence, Obama said. Mayors need to talk to their constituents and resist shying away from such topics.

Obama said:

“You don’t see murder on this kind of scale, or this kind of frequency in any other advanced nation on Earth.”

He said that while there certainly are violent, mentally unstable or hateful people in every country, it’s only in America where lenient gun laws allow these people to have easy access to deadly firearms.

He said the shooting in Charleston “reminds us that racism remains a blight that we have to combat together.” Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, along with musicians MC Hammer and Carlos Santana, also encouraged the assembled mayors to engage with their constituents and discuss these difficult issues in their communities.

MC Hammer, who grew up in Oakland, urged the country’s mayors to spur positive changes in their communities:

“Children of color are being mistreated by law enforcement.”

MC Hammer explaining that the only way changes will be seen on that front is if conversations on race relations are had throughout the country.

Obama also discussed the importance of caring for human life by making a concerted effort to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

He praised those American cities that have been leaders in energy conservation and urged all cities to follow in their footsteps.

Outside the conference, however, were activists who didn’t feel that environmental conservation was high on the president’s agenda.

Mary Sweeters, an arctic campaigner with Greenpeace, stood outside San Francisco’s Union Square Hilton Hotel where the conference was held this afternoon, just moments before the president’s speech. She held a sign urging the president to “Stop Arctic Drilling.” Sweeters said that drilling in the Arctic is among the worst actions that humans can do to the planet right now and yet Shell is in the process of obtaining Arctic drilling permits.

While awards were being handed out to mayors for their efforts to protect the climate, Sweeters stood outside urging the mayors and the president to take a stand against the proposed drilling.

She said the president could rescind the lease to Shell altogether and prevent the company from drilling in the Arctic.

Sweeters said that the consequences of an oil spill in the Arctic would be disastrous.