President Obama ramped up his administration’s response to the violence in Ferguson, Mo., saying Tuesday he had instructed top officials to hold regional meetings aimed at improving relations between police and distrustful communities.
Speaking at a rally in Chicago, Obama said Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. would bring together state and local officials and religious and community leaders next week to talk about “specific steps” to improve race relations.
Obama said his administration would work on constructive solutions to what he described as frustrations “rooted in some hard truths.” But he condemned protesters who have reacted with violent outbursts to the police shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man, and a grand jury's decision not to indict the white officer who killed him, Darren Wilson.
“Don’t take the short-term, easy route and just engage in destructive behavior. Take the long-term, hard, but lasting route of working with me and governors, state officials to bring about some real change,” Obama said. “And to those who think that what happened in Ferguson is an excuse for violence, I do not have any sympathy for that. I have no sympathy at all for destroying your own communities.
“Those who are prepared to work constructively, your president will work with you,” he said.
Obama made his comments at the beginning of a speech intended to promote his new immigration policy. But his remarks showed that attention at the White House remained on the St. Louis suburb that was rattled anew Monday with news that Officer Wilson would face no state charges.
Holder, too, commented Tuesday, saying he and Obama had discussed criminal justice initiatives and "the need to bring our people together."
He added that two federal investigations into the Aug. 9 shooting remained ongoing and would be "thorough and conducted in a timely manner.”
Holder said he was disappointed in Monday’s violence, particularly because Brown’s father had chosen “heartfelt words about how he wanted his son's memory to be honored," and had discouraged violence.
Other administration officials have been monitoring the situation in Ferguson and other major cities that saw protests Monday.
Senior advisor Valerie Jarrett has spoken twice with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon since Monday night, and she and Holder held a conference call with civil rights leaders. White House Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson convened a call with Missouri lawmakers, according to White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
Despite the close engagement, Obama has tried to remain publicly measured in his response to the Brown case. He noted Tuesday that he did not think it was his place to comment on a “ongoing investigation or specific cases.”
A visit to Ferguson by either Holder or Obama is “still under consideration,” Schultz said, adding that the president would reevaluate once “things calm down a little bit.”
"We are all deeply worried and disappointed -- and concerned about the violence,” Schultz said.