Obama heckled in Florida

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Three men held up a sign reading "What about the black community Obama?" at a town hall meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida where presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama was speaking on stage Friday.

According to the video shown on the BBC website, Obama stopped speaking, while the camera zoomed in on the men. Other attendees began repeatedly chanting "Yes we can!" a common phrase used by Obama and his supporters.

Obama addressed the men, saying: "Excuse me young men, there's going to be a question and answer session, so you can ask a question later. Let me make my statement. Why don't y'all sit down? Then you can ask a question, that's why we're having a town hall meeting. Sit down."

The men remained standing and appeared to be addressing Obama, but the video did not include audio of the men at that point. Obama told the men that they "would have a chance to ask your question, but you don't want to disrupt the whole meeting. Just be courteous, that's all. All you have to do is be courteous."

Barack Obama surveys the crowd at a rally in Minneapolis, Feb. 2, 2008.
Image: Caleb Williams/Augsburg College Echo.

"Just be courteous and you'll have a chance to make your statement. Just relax, that's all," Obama added as the men surrendered their sign to a woman who appeared to be a campaign staffer.

The video then cuts to one of the men addressing Obama. "Why is it," the man asks, "that you have not had the ability, to not one time speak to the interests and even speak on behalf of the oppressed and exploited African American community or Black community of this country?"

"Alright," Obama replies. "Everybody, I want everybody to be respectful. That's why we're having a town hall meeting. This is democracy at work."

The video then cuts to Obama responding. The video does not indicate what, if any, time had passed. "The only way we're going to solve our problems in this country is if all of us can come together: Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young, old, disabled, gay, straight, that I think should be our agenda. All right?"

While Senator Obama is speaking, the crowd begins a standing ovation and at least two people can be seen exchanging a high five. The video ends there.

A blog post by Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post was able to fill in some of the blanks that the video misses.

The town hall meeting was in the Gibbs High School gymnasium and the demonstrators were activists from the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement (IPDUM), according to Weisman. "Uhuru" is a Swahili word for freedom.

Weisman says that the IPDUM is a socialist pan-African group who accuses Senator Obama "of ignoring the plight of poor blacks targeted by predatory lenders, police brutality and racist attacks."

Weisman goes on to say that one of the hecklers was St. Petersburg resident Diop Olugbulu, 31 who said, "all these attacks are clearly being made on the African community." This may be the missing unheard words, but that is not clear from the post.

Weisman reported that Obama went on to address all the issues the hecklers raised, including "the shooting of Sean Bell in New York to the prosecution of the Jena Six in Louisiana to predatory lending targeted at blacks and Hispanics."