President Obama emerged in the White House briefing room soon after the announcement of a grand jury’s decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Obama noted that “either way” the verdict “was going to be subject to intense disagreement,” so he wanted to concentrate on dialogue that “won’t be done by smashing car windows.”
“First and foremost we are a nation built on the rule of law, so this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” he said.
He reminded all that the parents of the deceased 18-year-old had called upon Ferguson to protest peacefully regardless of the verdict. “Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone,” Obama said. “We should be honoring their wishes.”
The president noted “our police officers put their lives on the line for us every day,” adding, “As they do their jobs in the coming days they need to work with the community — not against the community — to distinguish those who want their voices hear on legitimate issues” from rioters or vandals.
“In too many parts of this country deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color,” Obama said, adding this is “tragic” because poor communities need good policing the most. Law enforcement should be trained to ensure officers conduct themselves “in a way that is fair to everybody,” he said.
“…Communities of color aren’t just making these problems up… we do have work to do here, we shouldn’t just try to paper it over.”
The president was asked if he intends to visit Ferguson once things settle down.
“Let’s take a look and see how things are going,” he said, noting that Attorney General Eric Holder already made the trip. “We have to make sure that we need to focus at least as much attention on all those positive activities that are taking place” as on those committing violent acts, he added.
Missouri’s two senators also responded quickly to the grand jury’s decision.
“There will be many people who are disappointed in today’s decision, even though it is a result of a deliberate legal process that’s being independently checked by Attorney General Eric Holder and the U.S. Justice Department,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said.
“While we await the conclusion of that independent investigation — and continue working together for solutions to systemic issues highlighted by this tragedy — I’m praying that the good people of St. Louis and local law enforcement will remain peaceful and respectful of one another.”
As McCaskill released the statement protesters began clashing with police in the streets of Ferguson.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said he’s been “in close touch with clergy members and other local leaders” since Brown’s August death, “and I believe we all agree our first priority is peacefully healing and rebuilding the community after months of unrest.”
The Senate Republican Conference vice-chair stressed “we must balance the rights of Americans to exercise their free speech alongside the rights of people to live peacefully and safely in their communities.”
“My thoughts are with Michael Brown’s family today, as well as those in law enforcement who continue to protect the rights of all they serve, the National Guard members we ask to step forward during difficult times in our state, and all of their family members,” Blunt continued.
“Michael’s death was tragic, and the months since this tragedy have marked a challenging time in Ferguson and across Missouri. Together, I know we can move forward and heal as we work to find better job opportunities in and more investment for challenged communities.”