President Obama Holds a Town Hall at Benedict College

(applause) The President: Hello, South Carolina (applause) It is good to see everybody (applause) It’s good to be back in South Carolina Take a seat If you don’t have a seat, I’m sorry I want to say thank you to Benedict College (applause) I want to thank Tiana for the great introduction Give her a big round of applause (applause) We have all kinds of luminaries and dignitaries and big shots here today, but I’m just going to mention a couple of them One of the finest gentlemen and finest legislators we have in the country, your congressman, Jim Clyburn (applause) Your outstanding mayor, Steve Benjamin The president of this great institution, Dr. David Swinton It’s been a while since I’ve been in South Carolina In fact, it’s been too long I’m not going to lie You know I love you, and I’ve been loving you; it’s just I had a lot of stuff to do since I last saw you But it was wonderful to be backstage because I got a chance to see so many of the wonderful people that I worked with back in 2008 If it was not for this great state, the palmetto state, if it was not for all the people who had, at a grass-roots level, gone door-to-door and talked to folks, got everybody fired up and ready to go, if it hadn’t been for all of you, I might not be president And I’m truly grateful for that (applause) I’m truly grateful for that I hope that you don’t mind; I also brought another good friend, the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder (applause) We decided to take a Friday road trip together because Eric has not only been a great friend, but an extraordinary attorney general As some of you may know, he is going to go enjoy himself, and he’s going to retire from public service, but I know he’s still going to be doing great things around the country I’m really going to miss him Now, I am not here to make a long speech I’m here to make a short speech because what I want to do is spend most of my time interacting, having a conversation I want to get questions; I want to hear what you guys are thinking about This is a good thing for me: to get out of Washington and talk to normal folk (laughter) I thought it was appropriate to come here because tomorrow I’ll be visiting Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge One of the things I might talk about — I’m still working on my speech, but it might come up — is the meaning of Selma for your generation Because Selma is not just about commemorating the past; it’s about honoring the legends who helped change this country through your actions today in the here and now Selma is now Selma is about the courage of ordinary people doing extraordinary things because they believe they can change the country They can shape our nation’s destiny Selma is about each of us asking ourselves what we can do to make America better And historically, it’s been young people like you who help lead that march You think about somebody like John Lewis, who was one of the key leaders and will be joining us tomorrow, he was 23 when he helped lead that march that transformed the country You think about the children’s crusade in Birmingham, or the 12-year-old boy who was elected head of the NAACP youth chapter, who grew up to be Jim Clyburn, it was young people It was young people who stubbornly insisted on justice,

stubbornly refused to accept the world as it is, that transformed not just the country, but transformed the world You can see that spirit reflected on the poster put out by the Student Non- violent coordinating committee in the 1960s; they had a picture of a young John Lewis kneeling in protest against an all-white swimming pool, and it reads, “Come, let us build a new world together.” Come let us build a new world together That’s the story of America That’s why immigrants came here: the idea of building a new world together Not just settling on what is, but imagining what might be, insisting we live up to our highest ideals, our deepest values That’s why I wanted to come here to Columbia and here to Benedict College because we all know we still have work to do We’ve got to ensure not just the absence of formal legal impression, but the essence of a dynamic opportunity: good jobs that pay good wages, a good start for every child, healthcare for every family, a higher education that prepares you for the world without crippling you with debt, a fair and more just legal and criminal justice system (applause) Now, the good news is we’re in much better shape now than we were six years ago This morning, we learned our economy created nearly 300, 000 jobs last month; the unemployment rate went down (applause) Unemployment rate ticked down to 5.5 percent, which is the lowest it’s been since spring of 2008 (applause) Our businesses have now added more than 200,000 jobs a month for the past year We have not seen a streak like that in 37 years, since Jimmy Carter was president (applause) All told, over the past five years, our businesses have created nearly 12 million new jobs And what’s more, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is actually falling faster than the overall unemployment rate, which makes sense because it went up faster too during the recession, but it’s still too high The unemployment rate across the country and here in South Carolina is still higher than we want, which means we’ve got more work to do And we’ve got to make sure those are good jobs that pay a living wage and have benefits with them, so we can’t let up now We’ve got to do everything we can to keep this progress going This community, I know, is doing its part to prepare students for this new economy Programs like Youth Build are getting young people who may have gotten off track a chance to earn a degree and give the skills they need for the 21st century City Year AmeriCorps in the house — — I see their jackets — they’re working with the public schools in Columbia to increase graduate rates The Benedict College community is doing outstanding work beyond your walls (applause) We put you on the higher education community service honor roll You earned that honor (applause) So, as long as I’m president, we’re going to keep doing everything we can to make sure young people like you can achieve your dreams Now, we can’t do it for you; you’ve got to do it yourselves, but we can give you the tools you need We can give you a little bit of a helping hand and a sense of possibility and direction You’ve got to do the work, but we can make it a little bit easier for you That’s why one year ago, we launched what we call My Brother’s Keeper It’s an initiative that challenges communities to bring together non-profits and foundations and businesses and government, all focused on creating more pathways for young people to succeed This week, we put out a report showing the progress that’s been made That progress is thanks to the nearly 200 local leaders who have accepted what we call My Brother’s Keeper’s challenge,

including Mayor Benjamin and the mayors of Johnson and Holy Hill They’re doing great work, mentoring people, giving them a new path for success I’m hugely optimistic about the progress we can make together this year and in the years ahead because, ultimately, I’m optimistic about all of you Young people in this country make me optimistic, the future we can build together, this new world that we can build together I’m proud of you But we’ve got a lot more work to do, starting right now because I’m about to take your questions Thank you very much, everybody (applause) Thank you All right Got to make sure the mic works So, here’s how this is going to work You raise your hand; if I call on you, then wait for the mic so everybody can hear your question If you could stand up, introduce yourself, try to keep your question relatively short, I’ll try to keep my answer relatively short That way we can get more questions and answers in The only other rule is, we’re going to go girl, boy, girl, boy, just to make it fair So, it’s not always just, you know, the boys thinking they know everything (laughter) So, who wants to start? She says it’s her birthday, so we’ll call on her first All right Wait for the microphone Go ahead and stand up We’ve got to be able to see you Happy birthday What’s your name? Female Speaker: My name is (inaudible) I don’t have a question, I just wanted you to talk to me The President: Okay, she doesn’t have a question Happy birthday (laughter) All right, next time you’ve got to have a question, but it is your birthday, so we’re going to make an exception Woman right there in the back We’re going to go — I know I said boy, girl, boy, girl, but that didn’t count because she didn’t ask a question Right there, yes, you had your hand up Yes Yes, you Go ahead Female Speaker: Hello? The President: Hello Female Speaker: I’m a native Chicagoan, and I welcome you The President: What are you doing out here? Female Speaker: I love it The President: It’s warmer, isn’t it? Female Speaker: I’m down here to protect the environment The President: Okay Female Speaker: And I wanted to thank you for vetoing the XL Keystone Pipeline Thank you, thank you, thank you You are what we worked for; you were what we hoped for The President: Well, I appreciate that Do you have a question for me? Female Speaker: Yes Do you think that will stop the XL Keystone Pipeline? The President: Well, for those of you who haven’t been following this, the Keystone Pipeline is a proposed pipeline that runs from Canada through the United States down to the Gulf of Mexico Its proponents argue that it would be creating jobs in the United States, but the truth is, it’s Canadian oil that’s then going to go to the world market It will probably create about a couple thousand construction jobs for a year or two, but only create about 300 permanent jobs The reason that a lot of environmentalists are concerned about it is the way that you get the oil out in Canada is an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil, and obviously, there are always risks in piping a lot of oil through Nebraska farmland and other parts of the country What we’ve done is I vetoed it because the Congress was trying to short-circuit a traditional process that we go through I haven’t made a final determination on it, but what I’ve said is that we’re not going to authorize a pipeline that benefits largely a foreign company if it can’t be shown that it is safe and if it can’t be shown that, overall, it would not contribute to climate change Now, a lot of young people here, you may not be worrying about climate change, although it is very cold down here You can’t attribute a couple of days of cold weather or a couple days of hot weather to the climate changing, but the pattern overall is that the planet is getting warmer

That’s undeniable, and it’s getting warmer at a faster rate than even the scientists expect And you might think, well, you know, getting warmer, that’s no big deal Folks in South Carolina, we’re used to dealing with hot weather; we can manage But understand that when you start having overall global temperatures go up, even if it means more snow in some places or more rain in some places, it’s not going to be hotter every single place, but the overall temperatures going up, that starts changing weather patterns across the globe It starts raising ocean levels It starts creating more drought and wildfires in some places It means that there are entire countries that may suddenly no longer be able to grow crops, which means people grow hungry, which then creates conflict It means diseases that used to be just in tropical places start creeping up, and suddenly, we’ve got a whole new set of, say, insect-borne diseases like malaria that we thought we’d gotten rid of; now they’re suddenly in places like the United States We start running out of water It puts stresses and strains on our infrastructure Hurricanes become more powerful when the water is warmer, which means a lot of our coastal cities and towns are put at risk I say all that because it may not be the thing that you are worried about right now Right now, you’re worried about getting a job or right now you’re worried about, you know, is your girlfriend still mad at you, or right now, you know, you’re thinking about just getting through classes and exams I understand that, but what you have to appreciate, young people, is this will affect you more than old people like me I’ll be gone when the worst of this hits And the disruptions, economic, social, security disruptions that it can cause can make your life and the lives of your children much harder and much worse And if you don’t stop it at a certain point, you can’t stop it at all, and it could be catastrophic I just want you to understand: what I just described, it’s not science fiction; it’s not speculation; this is what the science tells us So, we’ve got to worry about it, which is part of the reason why we’ve invested in things like green energy, trying to increase fuel efficiency standards on cars, trying to make sure that we use more solar and wind power, trying to find new energy sources that burn clean instead of dirty And everybody here needs to be supportive and thinking about that because you’re the ones who are going to have to live with it And I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve doubled the amount of clean energy produced since I’ve been president We’re increasing fuel efficiency standards on cars, which will save you, by the way, money at the pump Don’t think that just because gas prices are low right now — that’s nice; it puts more money in your pocket, but that’s not going to last So, don’t start going out and say, “I’m going to buy a big gas guzzler now, right?” Because the trajectory of the future is that gas — oil is going to get more expensive; it’s going to get harder to extract We’re going to have to transition, over time, to a new economy And there’s huge opportunity We can create a lot of jobs in those areas if we are focused on it and planning for it But thank you very much for the question (applause) All right It’s a gentleman’s turn We’ve got any mics back here? All right Just wanted to make sure Let’s see This young man right here in the red tie Looking sharp You always wear a tie or you just wore it today? Brandon Pope: I wear it often The President: Okay, good I like that Looking clean Go ahead Brandon Pope: My name is Brandon Pope, graduating senior here at Benedict College, majoring in Business management The President: Excellent Brandon Pope: My question is, tuition is very high in the the United States The President: Can I make it lower? (laughter) Is that the question? Brandon Pope: While in other countries, it’s free What are some of your plans to assist those that are having trouble paying for school? The President: Okay (applause)

Let me — first of all, let me just say this is a cause near and dear to my heart because Michelle and I, we weren’t born into wealthy families So, the only way we got our education was because we got help: loans, grants, work study programs If we hadn’t had that available to us, we could not have pursued the education we did and couldn’t have achieved what we achieved And even with all the help we got, we had so much debt when we got married that we had net negative liabilities; we just joined together our net negative liabilities, and it took like 10 years to pay off our debt The first 10 years of our marriage, our loans were more expensive than our mortgage It was only about two years or three years before I was elected U.S. senator that I paid off my loans Now, the truth is that historically, the reason America succeeded so well is we’ve always been ahead of the curve in educating our population We were the first country to say, “Let’s have free public high schools.” When folks who had fought in World War II came back, gave them a G.I. Bill; middle class helped to get built because people got new skills Through much of the 60s and 70s and 80s, our public university system was hugely important in giving people a pathway into the middle class Now, here’s what happened Typically, state legislatures started cutting support for state universities Those state universities and colleges then decided, “Well, we’re going to have to jack up tuition to make up for the money we’ve lost because the state’s not giving us as much.” And that’s how tuition started to get higher and higher and higher Now, what I’ve done since I became president was a couple things We significantly expanded the Pell Grant program with the help of people like Jim Clyburn (applause) It used to be that the student loan program was run through the banks and the banks would take a cut They were making billions of dollars on student loans We said, “Why do we have to go through the banks? Give it directly to the students, save that money, and give it to more students, and increase the size of the Pell Grant We initiated a program that many of you can still take advantage of, and that is we capped the percentage of your income that you have to pay in repaying your student loans so that if you decide to become a teacher or you decide to become a social worker, you get a job just starting off that’s not paying you a lot of money, but is in the field that you want; you don’t have to say no because you can’t afford it It’s only going to be 10 percent of your income So, it makes your debt payments manageable But what we still have to do is to deal with the question you pointed out, which is, how do we just keep tuition lower generally? Now, the big proposal that I’ve put forward this year is let’s make community colleges free for those who — (applause) Now, it would be conditioned You would have to keep up a certain GPA You’d have to put in some sweat equity in the thing, but the point is, those first two years were free The advantage of that is, first of all, a lot of young people start at community colleges, and they may not want a four-year degree, but they can get a two-year degree that gives them the skills they need to get a job and not have any debt Even if you want to go to a four-year college, for a lot of young people, it may be an option to go to a community college for the first two years, then transfer your credits, and you’ve at least saved half of what you would otherwise spend on your four-year degree And with — we can do this just by closing some loopholes in the

tax system that gives companies the ability to avoid paying the taxes that they owe So far, at least, I haven’t gotten the kind of support I’d like from some of my republican friends and the Senate and House of Representatives But we’re going to keep on working on it because it’s a smart idea Look, I want — ultimately, want at least the first two years of college to be just like public high schools are now And everybody — because it is very hard nowadays to find a well-paying job without some form of higher education Without some form of higher education, even if you end up working in a factory these days, you go into a modern factory, it’s all computerized, and you’ve got to know math, and you’ve got to be able to function in a high-tech environment So, it’s a proposal whose time has come We may not be able to convince republicans to get it done this year, but we’re going to just keep on going at this Ultimately, this is what is going to keep America at the cutting edge, and if we’re able to do that, then we’re going to be able to save you a little bit of money, and you won’t have the same kind of debt that I had to take up when I got my degree All right? Thank you for the question (applause) All right It’s a young lady’s turn now That young lady in the orange right there It’s hard to miss. Got the yellow and the orange Did you wear that just so I’d call on you? Rene Jamison: Thank you for being here, President Obama My name is Rene Jamison I am a public relations consultant and a community organizer I am most proudly the parent of two young, black males Sit down for a moment because I have an 18-year-older and, yes, I have recently birthed a 1-year-older My 18-year-old — The President: It took you that long to forget what it was like (laughter) Rene Jamison: I have a quick question for you Primarily about my 18-year-older He is a scholarship student athlete at South Carolina State University I’m very proud of the fact that he is there, but as I’m sure you are aware, HBCU’s and, in particular, South Carolina State University is facing a bit of an uphill battle at this moment I have a question for you for students like him that are there, others across the world that are facing situations that are insurmountable and challenging How do you stay motivated, and what particular advice do you have for me to take back to Lenar to tell him to stay encouraged, continue to keep the hope alive, and do his best? Thank you The President: Well, you know, the main thing you should tell him is listen to your mom (laughter) I hope you recorded that So — you did Look, I’m trying to remember what it was like being 18 and 19 and 20 It’s been a while But the one thing that I always say to young people coming up these days is you should be wildly optimistic about your possibilities and your future So often when we watch the nightly news or read the paper, all you’re hearing about is bad stuff going on It just seems like, man, there’s war, strife, folks are arguing and yelling, conflict But the truth is, is that today, right now, you are more likely to be healthier, wealthier, less discriminated against, have more opportunity, less likely to be caught up in violence than probably any time in human history The opportunities for you to get information and to get an education and expose yourself to the entire world because of technology is unmatched It’s never been like this before Your ability to start your own business or carve your own path has never been greater So, my first and general point is do not get cynical

about what’s possible The second thing is you’ve got to work very hard, and there’s no free lunch, and you can’t make excuses In particular, when I’m talking to young African-American men sometimes, I think the sense is cards are stacked against us; discrimination is still out there, and so it’s easy sometimes just to kind of pull back and say, “Well, you know, it’s just too hard.” This is part of why it’s so important for us to remember Selma tomorrow It’s not as hard as it was 50 years ago It’s not as hard as it was when Jim Clyburn was coming up, and he’s now one of the most powerful men in the country, growing up right here in South Carolina So there are no excuses not to put in the effort There are no excuses not to hit the books If you want a good education in this country, you can get a good education, even if you are in a bad school And I’ll be honest with you; we’ve got to do some work to make schools more equal Right here in South Carolina, there’s still schools that were built back in the 1800s that haven’t been repaired, don’t have decent restrooms (applause) Don’t have the proper books So we’ve still got to fight to make sure that every child, not just some, have equal opportunity That’s a worthy fight But you can still learn even in that school Even in the most rundown school, if you put in effort, you can get a good education So, you can’t make excuses Even as you advocate for justice, you’ve got to make sure that you’re also taking advantage of the opportunities that you currently have But that brings me to one last piece of advice for young people and that is think about more than just yourself Think about how you can have an impact beyond yourself The people who I know who are really happy and successful as they get older, it’s because they have an impact on something other than just their own situation They’re not just thinking about how do I get mine They’re thinking about how does everybody get their fair share And when they do that, that gives meaning to your life, that gives purpose to your life that gives you influence and a sense of purpose You’ve got to have a sense of purpose beyond just the almighty dollar I mean, look, we live in a free market society, and one of the things that sets America apart is business and entrepreneurship and hustle Some folks are out there just — they’re trying to make a new product, create a new service The profit motive is strong, and that’s good That’s important But if that’s all you’re thinking about and you’re not thinking about how you can also have an impact through your church or if you’re not thinking about how you can treat your employees right when you do get a business, if you’re not thinking once you do make it, what am I giving back to make sure that I’m giving a helping hand to the folks coming up behind me, if you’re not thinking that way, you’re not going to be able to get through the tough times What gets you through the tough times is that sense of purpose That sense of purpose can’t just be about yourself; it’s got to be about something larger All right Oh, we’ve got a young man right here He’s standing tall of — go ahead Yes, sir Trace Adams: My name is Trace Adams The President: How old are you, man? Trace Adams: Ten The President: So, you’re in fifth grade? Trace Adams: I’m in fourth The President: Fourth grade? You’re a tall guy Trace Adams: Thank you The President: So, what’s going on, Trace? Trace Adams: I was just wondering — I’m 10 I was just wondering when you were interested in being a president The President: It wasn’t when I was 10 Are you thinking about it? (laughter) Trace Adams: A little bit The President: Okay All right (applause) Well, I mean, you’re definitely ahead of me Now, just remember, you’ve got to wait until you’re 35 That’s in the Constitution So, you’ve got at least 25 years to prepare You know, I did not think about — when I was 10, I wasn’t thinking about being president When I was 10, I was interested in being an architect

I was interested in the idea of like building buildings And I thought that was pretty cool And then I went through a bunch of stuff, and for a while, I thought I might be a basketball player, and it turned out I was too slow, and I couldn’t jump So, I stopped thinking that Then I became interested in being a lawyer, and I did become a lawyer But what are you interested in right now? What subjects are you interested in in school? Trace Adams: Social studies, actually The President: Social studies So, you’re interested in public policy Are you starting to read the newspapers and things? Is that your dad behind you? Trace Adams: Yes, sir The President: You discuss the issues with your dad and stuff? Trace Adams: Oh, yes, sir, definitely The President: Oh, yeah, I can tell you do Okay Well, I think the most important thing is to just make sure that you work hard in school I think it’s really good if you get involved in like some service projects and help out people in your community, whether it’s through the scouts or your church or some other — or school, some other program, so you get used to trying to help other people; make sure you graduate from college, and then, who knows? You might end up being — I might just be warming up the seat for you And if you become president, I want you to remind everybody how, when you talked to President Obama, he said, “Go for it.” All right? Don’t forget me All right (applause) That’s Trace, 10 years old And already thinking — he’s already thinking about public policy I just want to — I want all the — I want all the folks in college to just notice, he’s reading the papers and talking public policy, so if all you’re doing is watching the ball game, don’t let 10-year-old Trace embarrass you now Okay All right It’s a young lady’s turn It’s not going to help you — you’ve got like five people all helping you out I’ll call on one of the young ladies there Who’s part of (inaudible) — did you do songs? Is that what happened? (laughter) All right Y’all do that fast, too It’s like you guys do that for everything Where are we going for lunch? Female Speaker: Good afternoon, Mr. President I am also a native of Illinois, so it’s good to see you here I am also proud AmeriCorps here in Columbia The President: So, there’s a Hyde Park here? Female Speaker: Yes, sir The President: There’s one back in Chicago Female Speaker: Yes, there is one back in Chicago My question for you — The President: Hey — Female Speaker: My question for you, Mr. President, how can City Year and other AmeriCorps programs support the goals of My Brother’s Keeper? The President: First of all, City Year AmeriCorps, for those people thinking about public service or want to serve before they go on into graduate school or in some cases want to go before they go to college, AmeriCorps programs are an outstanding way to fund your college education City Year is one of the great AmeriCorps programs that we have In addition to giving these spiffy red jackets, they end up being placed in communities all across the country working in schools, working in communities in need, working on housing programs, all kinds of different stuff, and we’re very proud of them My Brother’s Keeper, the idea, the genesis of this came after the Trayvon Martin verdict Obviously, there was great controversy about how the case was handled And Eric Holder, by the way, has done an outstanding job getting our Justice Department to stay focused on the equal application of the law at local and state, as well as federal levels But what I realized is also part of the goal of making sure

that young African-American men succeed, young Latino men succeed, young white men who don’t have opportunities to succeed, is to make sure that everybody’s got a path that leads in a positive direction, and you can’t wait until somebody is in trouble before you start intervening You’ve got to start when they’re younger because the statistics show that if a child, by the time they’re in third grade, is reading at grade level, they are far more likely to be able to graduate and succeed If a child doesn’t get suspended or disciplined in school, they’re far less likely to get involved in the criminal justice system If they get through high school without being involved in the criminal justice system, they are far less likely to ever get involved in the criminal justice system So, these points where we know that if you intervene in a timely way, it will make a difference So, what we’ve done is to get pledges from foundations and philanthropies; we’ve recruited businesses; we’ve gotten the NBA involved; we’ve gotten every agency in our government involved, and we’ve got cities, and your mayor is participating in this, so Columbia is participating in this, in coming up with local plans for how are we going to give opportunities, pathways for mentorship, apprenticeship, after-school programs, job search, college prep — you name it, and each community is coming up with its own programs and plans, and then we are partnering with them and helping match them up with folks in their area who are also interested in resourcing these initiatives And AmeriCorps, I think, is a key part of this because where a city or a state or a local community has a good plan, there is an opportunity for City Year or any other AmeriCorps program to be plugged in to that plan and become part of that plan And my hope is that over the next several years and beyond my presidency, because I’ll stay involved in this, that in every city around the country, we start providing the kinds of help that is needed to make sure our young men are on the right track Now, I want to point out, by the way, I’m not neglecting young women because as you might expect, Michelle would not let me So, she is — she’s initiated programs for mentorships, and we’ve got an entire office in the White House for women and girls that focused on some of these same initiatives But there is a particular challenge that we face for African-American and Latino men, young men of color, and we’ve got to be honest about that We’re losing a large portion of our generation, big chunk of this generation and the previous generation I was talking to my — we have something called the Council of Economic Advisors Even though there’s been good job growth, really strong job growth, and unemployment has come down, we’ve gotten through the recession, the labor participation rate, the number of people who were actively seeking work, still is low compared to what it was 10 years ago And we’re asking ourselves why Now, part of it is the population is getting older, so more people are retiring and not working But that’s not the only reason In the African-American community, a big reason is that you’ve got young people with criminal records who are finding themselves unemployable Now, that’s not just bad for that individual; that’s bad for their children; that’s bad for the community So, this is part of the reason why it’s so important for us to re-think how we approach non-violent drug offenses, which is responsible for a lot of the churn of young men of color going through the criminal justice system We’ve got to re-examine how sentencing is working and make sure it’s done equally, by the way, because we know statistically, it’s been demonstrated that African-American men are more likely to be arrested than their counterparts, more likely to be searched, more likely to be prosecuted, and more likely to get stiffer

sentences despite the fact that they are no more likely to use drugs or deal drugs than the general population And that’s a problem (applause) So, we’re going to have to look at reforms there, but for those who are already in the pipeline, we’ve also got to think about, how do we help them get the kind of help that they need? And this is going to be something I’m devoting a lot of energy to because this is not just a black or Hispanic problem This is an American problem If you’ve got a big chunk of your workforce that is not working, and that’s the youngest part of your workforce, and they’re never contributing to the economy, and not paying taxes and not supporting social security, then the whole economy grows slower Everybody’s worse off So, this is not an issue just for one group This is an issue for everybody, all right? (applause) All right It’s a young woman’s turn Okay It’s a young woman’s turn I’ll be happy to sign your book You’ve been waving a lot, but that’s not going to help It’s a young woman’s turn So, let’s see This young lady way back in the back, right there Yeah I’m going to make the mic person get some exercise Simone Martin: Thank you, Mr. President Good afternoon, and welcome to South Carolina My name is Simone Martin I’m an attorney in this area with the Rutherford law firm In fact, my boss, Representative and House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, is sitting right over there, probably wondering why I’m not at the office But nevertheless — The President: Are you advertising for him? Was this like a whole — Simone Martin: No, I’m just trying to keep my job The President: Are you going to give like a number? Simone Martin: No, I’m just trying to keep my job The President: If you need representation, call Rutherford and associates All right Go ahead Simone Martin: I have two questions for you I hope that you’ll indulge me by addressing both They’re quick Or the second one is quick The President: Go ahead Simone Martin: The first one is, what can criminal defense attorneys like myself and Mr. Rutherford do to increase the number of federal pardons that are granted? The second question is, to whom do I need to speak to improve my chances of being selected as a White House fellow? Can you help me out? The President: Oh, okay (applause) So let me address the non-self-interested question first (laughter) I just had a discussion about the criminal justice system One of the extraordinary powers that a president has is the power to commute sentences or pardon somebody who’s already been sentenced And when I came into office for the first couple years, I noticed that I wasn’t really getting a lot of recommendations for pardons, at least as many of them as I would expect Many of them were for older folks; a lot of them were people just looking for a pardon so they could restore their gun rights But sort of the more typical cases that I would have expected weren’t coming up So, I asked Inventory General Holder to work with me to set up a new office, or at least a new approach inside the Justice Department because, historically, what happened is the president would get a big stack of recommendations, and then he could sign off on them Obviously, I don’t have time to go through each request So, what we’ve done now is open it up so that people are more aware of the process And what you can do is contact the Justice Department, but essentially we’re not working with the NAACP; we’re working with, you know, various public defenders’ offices and community organizations just to make people aware that this is a process that you can go through Now, typically we have a pretty strict set of criteria for whether we would even consider you for a pardon or a commutation Eric, I assume that that’s available somewhere on the Justice Department website Is that correct?

Okay So, my first suggestion would be to go to the Justice Department website If the person doesn’t qualify because they may have served time, but there were problems when they served time, or if it was a particularly violent crime, or you know, they may just not fit the criteria where we would consider it A lot of what we’re focused on is non-violent drug offenses where somebody might have gotten 25 years, and she was the girlfriend of somebody and somehow got caught up and since then has led an exemplary life, but now really wants to be able to start a new career or something like that; that’s the kind of person typically that would get through the process Now, in terms of White House fellows program, there’s a whole White House fellows committee, and it’s complicated, and I don’t have any pull on it (laughter) I do not put my thumb on the scale because if I did, I’d get into trouble because then people would say, “Oh, he just put his friends on there.” So, you’ve got to go through the process, but you seem very well qualified, so good luck Simone Martin: Thank you The President: You’re welcome All right (applause) How many more questions have I got? I like to — it looks like I’m okay All right You know what? I’m just going to call on this gentleman He’s been like waving, and I’ve got to make sure he’s not waving because out of his periphery, I just saw him the whole time All right Let’s make sure this question — go ahead Male Speaker: First — I have two questions First — firstly, will you sign my book? The President: Yes, I will sign your book Male Speaker: I’m a student currently studying at the University of South Carolina I see President Pastini is in the house, so good to see you, Mr. President The President: Now, you’re sucking up to the president (laughter) Male Speaker: My question, I guess it relates to the Michael Brown case I’ve just recently seen a report that suggested that there’s been grave injustices going on in Ferguson I’m trying to figure out why the Attorney General, Eric Holder, refused to press charges against the police officer Why didn’t he face the federal charges? The President: Well, I will answer that question Now that’s — that was two questions right now Male Speaker: And I’m — The President: No, that’s it Hey, you don’t get a third question Sit down I called on you Come on Sit down This is how folks will get you My reporter friends here, they’re famous for doing that They’ll be like, “Mr. President, I’ve got a four-part question.” So, you only get two I will sign your book With respect to Ferguson, keep in mind that there are two separate issues involved The first is the specific case, Officer Wilson and — they don’t retry the whole thing all over again; they look to see whether or not at the state level, due process and the investigation was conducted The standard for overturning that or essentially coming in on top of the state’s decision is very high The finding that was made was that it was not unreasonable to determine that there was not sufficient evidence to charge Officer Wilson That was an objective, thorough, independent federal investigation

We may never know exactly what happened, but Officer Wilson, like anybody else who is charged with a crime, benefits from due process, and a reasonable doubt standard, and if there is uncertainty about what happens, then you can’t just charge him anyway because what happened was tragic That was the decision that was made, and I have complete confidence and stand fully behind the decision that was made by the Justice Department on that issue There is a second aspect to this, which is how does the Ferguson Police Department and the government of Ferguson, the municipality, treat its African-American citizens when it comes to law enforcement? And there, the finding was very clear, and it’s available for everybody to read What we saw was that the Ferguson Police Department, in conjunction with the municipality, saw traffic stops, arrests, tickets, as a revenue generator, as opposed to serving the community And that it systematically was biased against African-Americans in that city who were stopped, harassed, mistreated, abused, called names, fined, and then it was structured so that they would get caught up in paying more and more fines that they couldn’t afford to pay or were made difficult for them to pay, which raised the amount of additional money that they had to pay, and it was an oppressive and abusive situation And that is also the conclusion that the Justice Department arrived at The steps that now are to be taken is that the Justice Department has presented this evidence to the city of Ferguson, and the city of Ferguson has a choice to make They’re basically going to have to decide, do they dispute the findings of the Justice Department, and I shouldn’t comment on that aspect of it, although I will say that what’s striking about the report is a lot of this was just using emails from the officials themselves It wasn’t like folks were just making it up But the city of Ferguson will now have to make a decision: are they going to enter in to some sort of agreement with the Justice Department to fix what is clearly a broken and racially biased system, or if they don’t, then the Justice Department has the capacity to sue the city for violations of the rights of the people of Ferguson And you know, here’s the lesson that I would draw from this I don’t think that what happened in Ferguson is typical I think that the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers here in South Carolina, any place else — young man, sit down I’m in the middle of talking All right Thank you The overwhelming number of law enforcement officers have a really hard, dangerous job, and they do it well, and they do it fairly, and they do it heroically (applause) And I strongly believe that And the overwhelming majority of the law — police departments across the country are really thinking hard about, how do we make sure that we are protecting and serving everybody equally? And we need to honor those folks, and we need to respect them and not just assume that they’ve got ill will, or they’re doing a bad job

But as is true in any part of our lives, as is true among politicians, as is true among business leaders, as is true among anybody, there are circumstances which folks don’t do a good job, or worse, are doing things that are really unlawful or unjust or unfair And what happened in Ferguson is not a complete aberration It’s not just a one-time thing It’s something that happens And one of the things that I think frustrated the people of Ferguson, in addition to the specific case of Michael Brown, was this sense of, you know, what — we’ve been putting up with this for years, and now when we start talking about it, everybody’s pretending like it’s just our imaginations, like we’re just paranoid; we’re just making this stuff up And it turns out they weren’t just making it up This was happening So, it’s important for all of us then to figure out, how do we move together to fix it? How do people of goodwill in law enforcement, in the community, everybody, work to fix it and find concrete solutions and to have accountability and oversight and transparency as to how law enforcement works? One of the things we did out of a tragic situation is we were able to form a task force made up of law enforcement, police chiefs, and community activists including two of the activists who got the Ferguson marches and protests started, and they came up with a consensus document that was presented to me last week that was very specific in terms of how we can solve some of these problems How we can make sure the police departments provide data about who they’re stopping in traffic, and data about how many people are killed in confrontations with the police, and how are those cases handled, and how are we training our law enforcement to respect the communities that they’re serving, and how do we make sure we’ve got a diverse police force and how do we look at new technologies like body cameras that may be helpful in this process, and how do we make sure that when something happens that may be an unjustified shoot, that people have confidence that the prosecutors are independent, and there’s a legitimacy to the process they can trust That’s not just good for the community; that’s also good for the police department, so that they feel like they can get out from under a cloud if, in fact, the officer did the right thing And if the officer did the wrong thing, that department should want to get rid of that officer because they’re going to undermine trust for the good cops that are out there doing a good job So, the point is that now, our task is to work together to solve the problem and not get caught up in either the cynicism that says this is never going to change because everybody’s racist — that’s not a good solution; that’s not what the folks in Selma did They had confidence that they could change things and change people’s hearts and minds So, you’ve got to have the ability to assume the best in people, including law enforcement, and work with them The flip side is the larger community has to be able to say, “You know what? When a community says systematically that it’s having some problems with its law enforcement, you’ve got to listen and pay attention and engage constructively to build trust and accountability so that it gets better.” So often, we get caught up in this and it becomes as political football instead of us trying to solve the problem And our goal should be to stop circumstances such as Ferguson or what happened in New York from happening again That should be our number one goal And it is achievable, but we’ve got to be constructive in going forward (applause) All right I’ve got one more question Now, it’s a woman’s turn Men got to put down the hands now I’m looking around Oh, come on, all right, we’ll call on this young lady right here Oh I’m sorry Go ahead Female Speaker: I am also a native of Chicago The President: Oh, well, now I did not mean to call

on three Chicagoans I guess this is where everybody in Chicago moves to because it’s it’s too cold in Chicago Go ahead Female Speaker: I am a senior majoring in psychology One of my questions is, as you know, Chicago struggles with gun violence, so my question is, what organizations and programs are you guys designing to keep the youth off the streets and into better — better conditions, and how as a community can we help you guys execute those programs and design in organizations? The President: I already mentioned My Brother’s Keeper, which is a major focus Each community then is going to have its own — this is an example of where you’ve got to work with the police department effectively and build trust What we know is things like community policing really work Where you’re partnering with law enforcement, law enforcement gets to know young people when they’re still in school, before they’re in trouble People have confidence that law enforcement is there for them, not just in tamping down stuff, but in lifting people up My Brother’s Keeper and other initiatives are going to make a big difference in giving young people an opportunity Now you mentioned gun violence That’s probably the hardest issue to deal with We have a long tradition of gun rights and gun- ownership in this country The second amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to say the people have a right to bear arms There are a lot of law-abiding, responsible gun owners who use it for protection or sport They handle their weapons properly; there are traditions of families passing down from father to son or daughter, hunting, and that’s important; that’s part of our culture; that’s part of who we are But what we also have to recognize is that our homicide rates are so much higher than other industrialized countries I mean, by like a mile And most of that is attributable to the easy ready availability of firearms, particularly handguns (applause) Now the courts and state legislatures, and I’m sure this is true in South Carolina, have greatly restricted the ability to put in place common sense — some common sense gun safety laws like background checks I personally believe that it is not violating anybody’s rights that if you want to purchase a gun, it should be at least your responsibility to get a background check so that we know you were not a violent felon or you don’t currently have a restraining order on you because you committed domestic abuse Right now, we don’t know a lot of that It’s just not available That doesn’t make sense to me And I’ll be honest with you; I thought after what happened at Sandy Hook that that would make us think about it The hardest day of my presidency, and I’ve had some hard days, but nothing compares to being with the parents of 20 6-year-old kids, beautiful little kids, and some heroic teachers and administrators in that school, just two, three days after they had been just gunned down in their own classroom You would have thought at that point, that’s got to be enough of a motivator for us to want to do something about this And we couldn’t get it done I mean, at least at the congressional level So what we’ve done is we have tried as much as we can administratively to implement background checks and to make sure that we’re working with those states and cities and jurisdictions that are interested and willing to partner with us to crack down on the legal use of firearms, particularly handguns heroic — and courageous stances from our legislators, both at the state level and the federal level,

it is hard to reduce the easy availability of guns And as long as you can go on to some neighborhoods and it is easier for you to buy a firearm than it is for you to buy a book — there are neighborhoods where it’s easier to buy a handgun and clip than it is for you to buy a fresh vegetable — as long as that’s the case, we’re going to continue to see unnecessary violence But I guess I’ll end by saying this: despite those frustrations, despite the failure of Congress to act, despite the failure of too many state legislators to act, in fact, in some places, it goes the opposite direction; people just say, well, we should have firearms in kindergarten and we should, you know, have machine guns in bars You think I’m exaggerating You look at some of these laws that come up Despite those frustrations, I would say it is still within our control to reduce the incidence of handgun violence by making sure that our young people understand that is not a sign of strength, that violence is not the answer for whatever frustrations they may have or conflicts they may have And work diligently with our young people and in our communities to try to put them on a positive path And the people who are going to lead that process are the young people who are here today (applause) You are going to have more impact on the young people coming up behind you than anybody else, and the kind of example you set and the willingness of all of you to get involved and engaged in a concrete way to re-make our world together, that’s what’s going to determine the future of America And looking out at all of you, you’re what makes me optimistic Thank you very much, Benedict College Appreciate you (applause)