Back from his weeklong vacation, President Obama told a late afternoon press conference that he has to be “very careful about not prejudging these events” like the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown “before investigations are completed.”
Obama met with Attorney General Eric Holder in the Oval Office after lunch, and said he spoke with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) and Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) by phone.
Holder, Obama said, “will be traveling to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with the FBI agents and DOJ personnel conducting the federal criminal investigation and he will receive an update from them on their progress.”
“He will also be meeting with other leaders in the community who’s support is so critical to bringing about peace and calm in Ferguson,” the president added.
Holder will be joined by Ronald Davis, the director of the DOJ’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services. DOJ community relations officials have been “working in Ferguson since the days after the shooting to foster conversations among the local stakeholders and reduce tensions among the community.”
“We have all seen images of protesters and law enforcement in the streets. It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting. What’s also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not,” Obama said. “While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns, and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines rather than advancing justice.”
Giving another nod to the recent arrests of reporters in Ferguson, he added, “Let me also be clear that our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded: especially in moments like these.”
“Ours is a nation of laws: of citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them. So, to a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other. Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other,” Obama continued. “As Americans, we’ve got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that’s been laid bare by this moment. The potential of a young man and the sorrows of parents, the frustrations of a community, the ideals that we hold as one united American family.”
The president gave a pitch for his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, an administration program focused on the challenges faced by young men of color. “In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.”
Obama said the chasm between the community and law enforcement is nothing new, but “it’s always tragic when it involves the death of someone so young.”
“I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed. Because, although these are, you know, issues of local jurisdiction — you know, the DOJ works for me. And then when they’re conducting an investigation, I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other,” he said.
Obama said his job is getting at the “root causes” of why young men of color are “more likely to end up in jail or in the criminal justice system than they are in a good job or in college.”
“There are young black men that commit crime. And — and — and we can argue about why that happens because of the poverty they were born into or the lack of opportunity or the school systems that failed them or what have you, but if they commit a crime, then they need to be prosecuted because every community has an interest in public safety,” he said. “And if you go into the African American community or the Latino community, some of the folks who are most intent on making sure that criminals are dealt with are people that have been preyed upon by them.”
“So, this is not an argument that there isn’t real crime out there and that law enforcement doesn’t have a difficult job… But what is also true is that given the history of this country, where we can make progress in building up more confidence, more trust, making sure that our criminal justice system is acutely aware of the possibilities of disparities in treatment, there are safeguards in place to avoid those disparities where, you know, training and assistance is provided to local law enforcement who, you know, may just need more information in order to avoid potential disparity.”
Obama did not directly responded to the main question of retiring ABC News Radio correspondent Ann Compton, who asked about Ferguson, “Has anyone there asked you, or have you considered going yourself?”