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Obama to mention policing in State of Union, but no Ferguson-related guests in audience

Obama to mention policing in State of Union, but no Ferguson-related guests in audience


WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama is expected to talk about community policing initiatives in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, but his special guest list has no direct connections to Ferguson or other police-involved deaths that have prompted demonstrations around the country.

The White House released its State of the Union guest list Monday. The contingent includes a 13-year-old boy who wrote a letter to the president pleading for his south Chicago community to become safer, along with police and community leaders in Los Angeles. But none of the guests has direct ties to the Ferguson shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, by police Officer Darren Wilson, or to other cases of police-involved deaths in New York City and Cleveland.

The dominant theme of the annual address, as forecast by recent Obama speeches and presidential events, appears centered on the claim that the U.S. has turned the corner out of the Great Recession and that the fairness of that recovery will be a major push of Obama’s last two years in office.

“Now that we have fought our way through this crisis, how do we make sure that everybody in this country, how do we make sure that they are sharing in this growing economy?’ Obama said in a video promoting the speech released by the White House on Monday.

He is expected to push programs to boost economic opportunities for the middle class, raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and provide federal aid for two free years of community college. Obama also is expected to defend executive actions allowing millions of undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, and normalizing relations with Cuba.

These initiatives have drawn opposition from Republicans who control Congress, and who accuse Obama of executive overreach and returning to tax-and-spend policies that would hurt the economic recovery.

Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, have said it would be good for Obama to include members of Brown’s family or for others to be in the State of the Union audience to highlight police-community conflicts exposed in Ferguson.

Since former President Ronald Reagan, guests in the State of the Union gallery have become personifications of signature presidential initiatives.

Obama will feature a plethora of issues, judging by the guest list for the 8 p.m. speech. Among the guests:

• Malik Bryant, a seventh-grader who lives with his mother and two sisters on Chicago’s South Side, who wrote a letter to Obama saying, “I just wanna be safe.”

• LeDaya Epps, of Compton, Calif., who was raised in foster care but became one of two women to complete a union construction apprenticeship.

• Rebekah Erler, of Minneapolis, a working mother of two whose husband’s construction company went under in the housing bust. The parents both now have jobs and just bought their first house, and they’ll be used to highlight the economic recovery.

• Victor Fugate, of Kansas City, who used Obama’s Affordable Care Act to get health insurance when he was laid off from his job as a financial counselor.

• Retired Army Staff Sgt. Jason Gibson of Westerville, Ohio, who lost both legs in Afghanistan but now surfs, skis and participates in marathons using a hand cycle.

• Alan and Judy Gross, of Washington. Alan Gross was recently released from a Cuban jail after five years of imprisonment, simultaneously with Obama’s announcement he would use executive orders to begin normalizing relations with Cuba. That normalization move has drawn criticism from some Republicans, including Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

• Anthony Mendez, of Bronx, N.Y.; a student whose friend was murdered in ninth grade. Mendez lived in a homeless shelter while becoming the first in his family to graduate from high school.

•Larry Merlo, of East Greenwich, R.I.; the president and chief executive officer of CVS Health, which last year announced it would no longer sell tobacco products.

•Astrid Muhammed, of Charlotte, N.C., who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2013 while uninsured, but who got covered under the Affordable Care Act and in August had the tumor removed.

• Kathy Pham, of Washington, a computer scientist who has designed health care software and studied disease trends.

• Phillip C. Tingirides, of the Los Angeles Police, who leads a “Community Safety Partnership” that has been credited for reducing violent crime in the Watts neighborhood.

• Carolyn Reed, of Denver; a small business owner who has used a loan from the Small Business Administration to expand to seven sandwich shops and who gets health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

• Dr. Pranav Shetty, of Washington, the global emergency health coordinator for the International Medical Corps, which helped control an Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

• Prophet Walker, of Carson, Calif., who served a six-year prison sentence for robbery, then co-founded an initiative in Watts that provides weekend camps for children.

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Chuck Raasch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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