Obama certainly caught White House reporters off guard when he proceeded to deliver seemingly off-the-cuff remarks about race in this country. At one point, the president held up an Illinois law as proof that something can be done to address racial profiling, a law that Obama worked to pass in 2003 when he was in the General Assembly.
When the president showed up unannounced, it may have been prompted by the death of Trayvon Martin, but on Friday, Obama spoke of how to move beyond that.
"When I was in Illinois I passed racial profiling legislation. And it actually did just two simple things. One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped. But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing," Obama said Friday.
There has been police sensitivity training, but nine years of data shows Obama's law has not done much to change the disparity in traffic stops by race.
The traffic stop reports from nearly a thousand Illinois police departments track the race, reason, duration, outcome and whether vehicles were searched.
According to police data reviewed Friday by the I-Team, minority drivers were more likely to be stopped at about the same rate every year between 2004 and 2012.
During each of those years, Chicago police stopped between 10 and 11 percent more minority motorists than white drivers, and that is about the same as the disparity statewide -- little change since the Obama law went into effect.
The president does not speak frequently about his own racial encounters, although in his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, he said: "I can recite the usual litany of petty slights that during my 45 years have been directed my way: security guards tailing me as I shop in department stores." That is why one remark Friday may have sounded familiar: "There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me."
The Illinois racial profiling law expires in 2015, and before state lawmakers renew it, change it, or dispose of it, they are certain to look at the data -- that does show some slight improvements in the consistency of treatment for motorists during traffic stops, regardless of race.