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'It's a problem everywhere'

Interviewer: Jan FritscheAugust 15, 2014

After the shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, days of protests have followed. The president of the St. Louis branch of civil rights group NAACP tells DW that racial tensions require a national solution.

Adolphus Pruitt, NAACP president in St. Louis. (Photo courtesy of www.Stlamerican.com)
Image: Stlamerican.com

DW: President Barack Obama has said in a TV address that it's time for healing and peace now. With the protests still going on, is it really time yet?

Adolphus Pruitt: I agree with the president 100 percent. It is time for healing and we met with the police chief officer and we think we have a plan in place to demonstrate that the city of Ferguson and its Police Department are there to protect the rights of the citizens who want to protest - not to interfere with those rights.

So you're happy with the way the authorities are handling the protests? Even though the police is accused of being to aggressive and even militarized?

Up until now I am not happy. But I am looking forward to the change that I think is about to happen and that I hope happens. Technically, they have agreed to provide space and ability for folks to exercise their constitutional right to protest and do it in a way that doesn't bring harm to them.

The situation in Ferguson is exceptional: Two-thirds of the community are black, whereas there are hardly any African-American police officers. The Ferguson Police Department's own statistics suggest heavy racial profiling. Are the racial tensions between the police and the community primarily a local phenomenon?

What happened to Michael Brown and what is happening as relates to those numbers, is happening all over America. And the one thing we cannot afford to do is to look at the situation with Michael Brown to just the geographical footprint of Ferguson, reduce it down to the city of St. Louis, or reduce it down to the state. It is a national problem and it is occurring everywhere and what we do to resolve it here needs to be done to develop a model that is replicable all over the country.

What exactly needs to happen?

Justice needs to occur for Michael Brown and it needs to happen as quickly as possible. And also, there needs to be some immediate reforms and training in how the police deal with the public, not only from a racial profiling standpoint. It has to be more humane, more reasonable, more flexible. It has to be where the police officer is saying: "It is not my intent and I wish I did not have to interact or arrest anyone. And now that I'm dealing with you, I want to deal with you with the same amount of dignity and respect that I would want if you were dealing with me."

After the civil rights movement of the 1960's, after the election of the first black president in 2008, the United States still sometimes struggles with racial tensions.

We're at a point where the glass is half empty and half full. There is the half that still believes in a racial inequity, that still believes in gender inequity, that still believes that other people are inferior to them. I don't know what it's going to take to overcome this problem, but I'm confident in this country versus anywhere else in the world it can happen.

Adolphus Pruitt is the President of the St. Louis branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).