Tensions flared at President Obama’s televised town hall on race relations Thursday.
Discussing issues of communities and policing, Obama was joined by ABC’s David Muir for the pre-taped The President & the People: A National Conversation with an audience that included a very emotional Erica Garner, the daughter of police chokehold victim Eric Garner.
Erica and her family were invited to participate in the town hall, but when the discussion concluded she shouted that she was denied asking Obama a question.
“I was railroaded! I was railroaded by ABC on the two-year anniversary of my father’s death!” Erica was heard yelling immediately after the meeting. “That’s what I have to do? A black person has to yell to be heard?”
Erica’s 43-year-old father was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on a Staten Island sidewalk July 17, 2014, when a group of police officers wrestled him and one put him in a chokehold. According to footage of the incident filmed by an onlooker, Garner cried, “I can’t breathe!” and fell to the ground, gasping for air. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital. In early December, a New York City grand jury voted not to indict the police officer responsible.
“Yo this town hall that presidential town hall #abc arranged is a farce. It was nothing short of full exploitation of Black pain and grief,” Erica wrote in a series of angry tweets. “They lied to me and my family to get us to travel to DC to participate. Taking time away from things I had planned to remember my father.”
Adding, “They promised me that if ANY questions got asked of #POTUS that mine would be asked… They lied to get us there … BECAUSE ABC lied to us… they promised if any questions were asked it would be mine… lies and exploitation.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest later confirmed that Erica was able to speak with Obama. “After the ABC-hosted town hall that was taped this afternoon, the President had a brief opportunity to visit with Erica Garner who was upset that she didn’t get called on to ask a question,” Earnest said in a statement.
Garner’s was not the only flare-up of tensions at the event. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also had a charged exchange with the president.
Speaking specifically about the recent Dallas shootings, Patrick questioned Obama if he “is doing everything he can to protect [police] lives.” Patrick also asked, “consider being careful when there is an incident of not being too quick to condemn the police without due process and until the facts are known.”
“What I have said is that the data … there are discrepancies, those aren’t good for making people feel like they are treated fairly and that’s not good for police either,” Obama said in response. “I think the one thing that all of us can do is to make sure that we don’t pretend as if there aren’t potential problems, police and communities interact and that the perceptions aren’t anti-police.”
Adding, “I have also insisted throughout all these processes that law enforcement is deserving of due process just like everybody else. No matter how powerful videos may be or what’s been said, everybody deserves to be treated fairly by the justice system.”
Calling himself “Mr. Hope,” Obama explained that protestors “have to be peaceful, it’s counterproductive if you’re not.”
The White House press pool noted that Obama looked “taken aback” and “annoyed” by Patrick’s line of questioning. And the president wasn’t the only one. According to a pool report distributed to the White House press corps, an audience member confronted Patrick after the taping and told the lieutenant governor that his “was an inappropriate manner in which to address the president.”
Also in the audience was Cameron Sterling, the son of Alton Sterling who was shot and killed Baton Rouge police.