Obama stands by Justice Dept. decision not to charge Ferguson officer

Obama stands by Justice Dept. decision not to charge Ferguson officer
President Obama pauses as he listens to a question during a town-hall meeting at Benedict College on Friday in Columbia, S.C. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

President Obama said Friday that he stood by the Justice Department's decision not to file charges against the white policeman who shot to death an unarmed young black man last summer in Ferguson, Mo., citing insufficient evidence.

The officer, "like anyone else who is charged with a crime, benefits from due process and a reasonable doubt standard," the president said at a town hall meeting in South Carolina. "If there is uncertainty about what happened, then you can't just charge him anyway because what happened was tragic."


Obama's comments came in response to a question about the Aug. 9 confrontation in the St. Louis suburb between officer Darren Wilson and 18-year-old Michael Brown that sparked major protests and a national discussion over race relations, particularly between law enforcement and minority communities.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said its investigation found insufficient evidence that Wilson willfully deprived Brown of his rights by employing force beyond what police are empowered to use. Obama called the probe "objective" and thorough.

"I have complete confidence and stand by the decision that was made by the Justice Department on that issue," he said, with Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder in the audience.

Obama also addressed a separate Justice Department investigation that concluded that a pattern of behavior among Ferguson police violated the constitutional rights of African Americans, findings that likely validated the concerns raised by those who demonstrated in the city this summer.

Holder, in separate comments to reporters traveling with the president, said he was "shocked" by the extent of the Ferguson police department's "appalling" prejudicial practices, and was even considering dismantling the force if necessary to ensure such customs ended.

"We are prepared to use all the powers that we have, all the power that we have, to ensure that the situation changes there," he said.

The president said that the situation in Ferguson was not "typical," praising law enforcement officers elsewhere who "have a really hard, dangerous job and they do it well and they do it fairly and they do it heroically."

"But as is true in any part of our lives, as is true among politicians, as is true among business leaders, as is true among anybody, there are circumstances [in] which people don't do a good job," he said.

Citing just-released recommendations by his policing task force created in the wake of Brown's death, he said communities of color must "solve the problem" and avoid "cynicism that says this is never going to change."

"That's not a good solution. That's not what the folks in Selma did," he said, referring to the civil rights march 50 years ago in Alabama that became a milestone in the black voting rights movement. "They had confidence that they could change things."

The president, along with his wife and daughters, will join anniversary commemorations at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Saturday.

Obama previewed his message in various public comments Friday, saying his visit was not just about commemorating the past but explaining the meaning of Selma for a new generation.

"This was a quintessentially American moment," he said in a radio interview on the "Tom Joyner Morning Show." "There are very few examples in American history or human history where that basic notion of maids and Pullman porters and young white priests traveling from Massachusetts, and rabbis, people without high office or great wealth, just coming together and saying we're going to stand up for what's true and what's right. And then to see the most powerful nation on Earth change because of that. That is the thing I think I want everyone to understand."

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