President Obama appealed for calm and restraint in Ferguson, Mo., on Monday night, saying distrust of police and racial discrimination can’t be resolved by “throwing bottles.”
Obama spoke minutes after a prosecuting attorney in suburban St. Louis announced that a grand jury decided not to indict police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man.
Obama repeated pleas for peace from Brown’s parents, saying they “have lost more than anyone.”
“We should be honoring their wishes,” Obama said.
The president has made several calls for calm and restraint in Ferguson, both immediately after the shooting and in the weeks leading to the grand jury announcement.
The White House said Monday that Justice Department officials had been in touch with local law enforcement agencies across the country to try to prevent the sort of violent clashes between protesters and police that made the case a symbol of racial divisions.
Still, as Obama spoke, police in Ferguson released tear gas on the crowd as protesters grew violent.
Though some black leaders and lawmakers have condemned Wilson and cast the case as a clear example of racial inequities in policing, Obama has walked a finer line, saying he did not want to prejudge the case.
On Monday, he tried to address the larger issues.
Obama suggested he sympathized with the anger, calling it “an understandable reaction.“ He attributed it to a long history of “deep distrust” between police and communities of color and a “legacy of racial discrimination.”
“This is not just an issue for Ferguson; this is an issue for America,” Obama said. “We have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades. I’ve witnessed that in my own life. ... But what is also true is that there are still problems. And communities of colors aren’t just making those problems up.”
Obama also called on police to distinguish between peaceful protesters and troublemakers using the situation to as an excuse to loot and riot.
The Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation into the matter and Obama dispatched Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to Ferguson in August.
Asked Monday whether he planned to make the trip himself, Obama did not rule it out.
Obama said he hoped the case would spark a broader push in communities for improved relations and bipartisan criminal justice reform in Washington.
“That won’t be done by throwing bottles. That won’t be done by smashing car windows. That won’t be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property, and it certainly won’t be done by hurting anybody,” Obama said.
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