PHILADELPHIA (Sputnik) — Numerous instances of police brutality and killings of African-American citizens over the past year is a reminder that racial inequality still exists in the United States, advocates and experts told Sputnik on Tuesday ahead of US President Barack Obama's speech at the 106th Annual NAACP in Philadelphia, where he plans to outline a way to improve US criminal justice system.
“There are problems that black Americans face, that white Americans face, and until we can convince the majority of white Americans that these problems are real, I’m afraid we’ll have great difficulty in solving these problems," prominent Civil Rights Movement leader and former Georgia lawmaker Julian Bond told Sputnik on the sidelines of the NAACP convention.
Obama's speech is slated to come at a time when the national spotlight has shifted to the issue of racial inequality amid several cases of police killings of unarmed African-American men. US grand juries failed to indict the officers responsible for the high-profile deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson or Eric Garner in New York City.
White House correspondent and author of the book "The Presidency in Black and White" April Ryan told Sputnik that other issues, including the high US unemployment rates in African-American communities, poor access to education and the high prison population are among other key priorities the Obama administration must resolve.
“The African-American community has the highest numbers of negatives, we are disproportionately at the lowest wrong at every category," Ryan explained. "Unemployment, health issues, education, prison population…there’s still gaps that need to be closed."
The Director of the Institute for Public History at the University of Virginia Phyllis Leffler told Sputnik the United States needs to focus on the "economic divide" that is growing and "getting worse" between the African-American and white communities.
"I think we have sort of lost our national will to build a collective future together, which I think we did have in the 1960s and 70s…I think that is the biggest challenge in terms of creating a situation of equality," Leffler said.
Ryan, who wrote the book on US presidency, argued, however, that the "change is happening."
“These have been some amazing years from the time he [Obama] became president, and I think it’s going to continue to go because you have an African-American whose at the highest height of the nation and it’s still the lowest of lows for many African-Americans," Ryan said.
Over the past year, Obama has launched some policy initiatives in wake of the renewed calls to bridge the divide in racial inequality, including proposing to invest $75 million for some 50,000 body-worn cameras for US law enforcement agencies in the next three years.
Last week, Obama also unveiled a plan to target segregation in US neighbourhoods, and on Monday the president announced his decision to commute the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders — the highest number of commutes in well over half a century.
In June, Obama admitted that his country had not yet "cured" itself of racism. His remarks came nearly a week after a 21-year-old white man opened fire at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine African-Americans.
The theme of this year’s NAACP convention in Philadelphia is pursuing liberty in the face of injustice, and is focusing on the issues of voting rights, criminal justice reform, health equity and education equality before the upcoming 2016 presidential election.