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President Barack Obama is facing new criticism from surprising sources. Most of the criticisms are coming from those in law enforcement and a military mom. The latest complaints were regarding how the White House handled honoring the deaths of military personnel killed in Chattanooga, but the president also faces additional scrutiny over his prison reform plan, and also criticism regarding his response to the riots and looting in Baltimore, which occurred after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Gray died of a spinal cord injury one week after his arrest.
According to Cathy Wells, mother of Lance Corporal Skip Wells, the 21-year-old Marine killed in the Chattanooga incident, the President has not called her to offer condolences in the death of her son. Wells, three other Marines and a Navy petty officer were killed after Mohammed Youssef Abdulazeez, a Muslim with suspected ties to terrorist groups, initiated gunfire at two recruiting centers in Chattanooga on July 16.
Obama was also highly criticized for not immediately lowering the American flag at the White House after the incident. He ordered the flags lowered five days later, on July 21, the same day House Speaker John Boehner issued the order for flags over Congress to be lowered.
Some local sheriffs have publicly stated their discontent with some of the President’s actions in the past few months. One of the most vocal is Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has appeared on Fox News multiple times with his criticism of the President. Clarke, who is African-American, accused Obama of being indifferent to those who died in Chattanooga because “none of them look like Trayvon Martin.” Clarke also said, in response to the looting and destruction in Baltimore, that the president has a “general disdain for the American police officer.”
Bristol County, Tenn., Sheriff Tom Hodgson told a local radio station that he is opposed to the president’s prison reform plan. Hodgson said that drug offenses are not a non-violent crime because drugs kill people. He also said that reducing sentences for those convicted in drug crimes, which is something the president is seeking, invalidates work that judges do when they prepare to issue sentences.
Obama addressed the Chattanooga military servicemen’s deaths in a July 21 speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Pittsburgh. He also took on the issue of health and safety violations in Veterans Administration hospitals. According to some reports, Obama did not appear concerned about surprising criticism from law enforcement and military families.
Obama recently stated that “whenever there is any missteps, there is no excuse. So our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones and know that there is now new leadership at the Pittsburgh VA. The safety measures that are now in place are some of the strongest in the nation.”
Neither Congress nor The White House has offered an explanation for the wait on lowering the flags. The White House was contacted with questions about the delay and flag protocol, but officials never responded. Rep. Barry Loudermilk’s (R-Georgia) was also called about Congress’ delay, but officials said lowering the flag over the Capitol is the decision of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and they could not offer an explanation of why it took five days to make the decision.
Others gathering information about the flag flap are reporting that Obama’s response in this case was, in part, because there is no official flag policy regarding every type of incident. Typically, flags are lowered after a national catastrophe that causes the nation to mourn, according to John Hartvigsen, president of the North American Vexillological Association. The president lowered the flags after four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens, were killed in the terrorist raid at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. He also lowered flags after shootings at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013 and at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009. It was not lowered after the Fort Hood shooting in 2014. The White House lowered its flag after the Boston Marathon bombing and after several mass shootings, according to unofficial reports. Also, contrary to viral Internet posts, flags were not lowered after singer Whitney Houston’s death, but were lowered for South African leader Nelson Mandela when he died. One South Carolina sheriff defied that order by refusing to lower the flag, stating Mandela was not an American.
“Normally, you wouldn’t have a presidential proclamation for individual soldiers. They are really for when the whole nation is in mourning. But (the Chattanooga shooting) doesn’t really fit into what’s normal,” Hartvigsen said. He said that flags would always being flying at half-mast if every soldier killed was honored in that way.
According to the U.S. flag code, the president decides when flags would be flown at half-staff. Rules state flags will remain lowered for 30 days after a president’s death and for shorter times in other cases. Governors and other government leaders can make decisions regarding their own communities. Meanwhile, Obama will have to continue to face questions and criticism from a number of sources about his decision.
By Melody Dareing
CNN–Obama Orders Flag at Half-Staff at White House for Chattanooga Victims
Fox News–Sheriff Clark: Obama Has a ‘Disdain for the American Police Officer’
CBS–President Obama Speaks at VFW Conference, Honors Chattanooga Victims
Photo Courtesy of Chris Short’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License