In wake of Charleston attack, Obama urges Beverly Hills audience to push for change

In wake of Charleston attack, Obama urges Beverly Hills audience to push for change
President Obama at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday. He is appearing at fundraisers, then will travel to San Francisco on Friday. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

If people are upset about mass shootings and other social problems, President Obama told the crowd at a Beverly Hills fundraiser Thursday, they ought to “push society and ultimately push Congress” in the direction of change.

"I didn't say, 'Yes, I can,'" Obama said, recalling the slogan of his 2008 campaign. "I said what? 'Yes, WE can.'"


The dark cloud of the South Carolina shootings that left nine people dead at a black church hovered over the day's events as Obama traveled west for Democratic fundraisers and to address a convention of mayors on Friday.

Even as he gathered with Hollywood mogul Tyler Perry at his Tuscan-style home in the hills, Obama's remarks were downbeat. He focused on the troubles of American race relations and the disadvantages that hold back many young people from lives of promise.


He spoke to about 250 people who contributed as much as $33,400 apiece to hear him speak and take pictures with him under a big white party tent. A few shouts and murmurs of two babies in attendance punctuated his appearance.

The children in the well-heeled crowd most likely don't have to worry about paying for higher education, Obama said after one child cried loudly during the president's grim riff about college affordability.

But Obama was mostly mourning the work he hadn't yet gotten done, admitting with one Freudian slip that he feels the clock ticking on his presidency.


America should be reforming its criminal justice system, he said, so that nonviolent offenders are not incarcerated in a way that leaves them unable to get a job "after they leave office."

If people are troubled by mass shootings, Obama said, they should mobilize and insist on change, pushing society and Congress to accomplish it.

"To see such a horrific event unfold like that is particularly shocking, and it's a reminder that we've got a lot of work to do," Obama said.

Twitter: @cparsons