Obama chides Black Lives Matter movement

Toluse Olorunnipa

London — President Barack Obama chided the Black Lives Matter movement, which has disrupted Hillary Clinton’s political events with rowdy protests, saying Saturday that its activists should be willing to sit down with political leaders rather than “yelling at them.”

Speaking during a town hall for young people in London on Saturday, Obama credited the group with shining a spotlight on police brutality, but said generally activists should be willing to compromise once they’ve gotten attention from those who have power to make changes.

“You can’t just keep on yelling at them and you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,” Obama said as he discussed his own experience as a community organizer before entering politics.

Activists from the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained national attention amid police brutality protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, have protested at several Clinton events. They got into a shouting match with former president Bill Clinton earlier this month. Activists from the group have also protested at rallies for Bernie Sanders and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

The group has protested Democrat Clinton’s use of the term “super predators” in the 1990s, as she pushed criminal justice legislation that many believe helped to fuel a sharp rise in incarceration, particularly in minority communities. Some saw the term as racially charged language that targeted young people.

Obama, who is pushing for new legislation that would roll back some of the harshest penalties, met with activists from Black Lives Matter movement at the White House earlier this year.

He has been largely backed the movement in past comments, even as critics questioned its disruptive tactics such as blocking highways. The president’s more critical comments Saturday come as he is preparing to weigh in more forcefully in the presidential election, in which Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

If Clinton wins the nomination, she will likely lean on Obama to boost her support among young black voters, who voted for the president by large margins but have thus far sided with Sanders.

Compromise urged

After a protester confronted Clinton at a fundraiser earlier this year over her “super predator” comment, the former secretary of state apologized for using the term.

In London, Obama called for the young activists to be more open to compromising with leaders with whom they disagree.

“Too often what I see is wonderful activism that highlights a problem but then people feel so passionately and are so invested in the purity of their position that they never take that next step and say, How do I sit down and try to actually get something done?”’ Obama said.

Obama’s practice of calling on people by gender to ask questions during town halls, which he refers to as a “boy-girl-boy-girl” approach, ran into trouble Saturday when he shut down a questioner who tried to get his attention.

“Plus, it’s a guy’s turn also,” Obama told the questioner, who later came out to the president as a “non-binary” person.

After the town hall, Obama met privately with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party and supporter of the U.K. remaining in the EU. .

The town hall highlighted Obama’s second full day in London, where he earlier met with Prime Minister David Cameron and urged Britons against voting in favor of a withdrawal from the European Union, or Brexit.

Obama was not asked about Brexit during the town hall.

With assistance from Justin Sink

To contact the reporter on this story: Toluse Olorunnipa in Washington at tolorunnipa@bloomberg.net.