By Ben Kamisar
The work of the civil rights movement remains unfinished, President Obama said ahead of his trip to Alabama to mark the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery.
"I think that the generation that has followed the civil rights generation has, in many ways, made great strides in part just by walking through the doors of opportunity that those giants helped to open up," Obama said during an interview airing Friday on Sirius XM’s “Urban View” with Joe Madison.
"I also think we all recognize that there continues to be challenges that require not just individuals living well and raising good kids, but requires collective action and mobilization. On some of those areas, I think we haven't done everything we can do."
Obama’s interview aired two days after the Justice Department released a report that found that the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department systematically violated the civil rights of its black residents.
The Justice Department also announced it would not seek civil rights charges against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown in an altercation over the summer.
Obama painted the Ferguson report as atypical but unsurprising in his first public comments since the report's release.
"I don't think that is typical of what happens across the country, but it's not an isolated incident," he said.
"I think there are circumstances in which trust between communities and law enforcement have broken down, and individuals or entire departments may not have the training or the accountability to make sure that they are protecting and serving all people and not just some."
On Saturday, the Obama family will head to Selma to commemorate the march to Montgomery, which that served as a decisive moment in the civil rights era. Police brutally attacked marchers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, stirring anger nationwide that helped propel passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Fifty years later, Obama lamented that black Americans "disempower ourselves by not voting."
"When it comes to voting, we still see big chunks of the community disenfranchised. Part of that is the responsibility of Congress to pass and renew a Voting Rights Act, the seminal capstone of the civil rights movement and the march on Selma," he said.
"When you think about the mighty battles that were fought, the notion that you'd only have a third or a half of African Americans voting at this stage, that is not living up to the legacy that has been presented."
As he visits the bridge with his daughters, Obama said he hopes they understand that the struggle for civil rights wasn’t that long ago.
"This isn't ancient history, and I worry sometimes that our kids, black or white, they are in a classroom where they see the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech during black history month, and they kind of think that this is something that happened way back in the past," he said.
"This is something that happened within my lifetime."