Twenty-four hours after two police officers were shot in Ferguson, Missouri, President Obama appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and was asked about the shooting by the show’s host.
Kimmel brought up Obama’s speech and the events in Selma last weekend and asked, “Does that make it especially painful for you when something like this happens?” (Because the burning question in the minds of most Americans is how all of this makes the president feel.)
“Obviously, we don’t yet know what happened,” the president said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the officers and their families and thankfully, as you said, they’re going to be okay.”
A suspect, who is still at large, fired several shots into a group of police officers in front of the Ferguson police station early Thursday morning, striking one officer in the shoulder and second in the face. Both officers were released from the hospital on Thursday, but the officer who was struck in the face still has a bullet lodged behind his ear.
Obama then quickly transitioned to reminiscing about Selma. “What was beautiful about Selma was reminding ourselves that real social change in this country so often has happened because ordinary people are willing, in a non-violent fashion, to make their voices heard,” he said.
Obama mildly condemned the shooters, calling them “criminals” and saying they should be arrested, but, shockingly, did so only in the context of condemning the Ferguson police.
“I think that what had been happening in Ferguson was oppressive and objectionable and was worthy of protest,” Obama said. “But there was no excuse for criminal acts. And whoever fired those shots shouldn’t detract from the issue. They’re criminals. They need to be arrested. And then what we need to do is we need to make sure that like-minded, good-spirited people on both sides — law enforcement who have a terrifically tough job — and people who understandably don’t want to be stopped and harassed just because of their race — that we’re able to work together to try to come up with some good answers.”
The president went on to boast about the task force he convened after “the original Ferguson event” that included police officers, police chiefs, “and some of the organizers of the protests both in Ferguson and New York — young people.”
He didn’t elaborate on why
agitators protesters from New York were included in the task force and whether they have contributed to the ongoing, and increasingly tense protests in Ferguson. The Ferguson County police chief said last night after the shootings, “We cannot sustain this forever.”
Obama went on to say that the task force came up with “terrific recommendations.” He said people who resort to violence should be “marginalized.”
“In the same way that you can’t generalize about police officers who do an extraordinarily tough job, overwhelmingly they do it professionally, you can’t generalize about protesters who, as it turns out, had some very legitimate grievances,” Obama said. “The Justice Department showed that they were being stopped — African Americans were being stopped disproportionately, namely so the city could raise money even though these were unjust.”
He explained that police officers were ordered to write more tickets in order to raise revenue for the city, which led some people to have to take time off work and others to end up in jail when they were unable to pay the fines.
“There was a whole structure there, according to the Justice Department, that indicated both racism and just a disregard for what law enforcement is supposed to do,” he said.
He closed with a theme from his Selma speech saying, “It is not unique, but it’s also not the norm. And we’ve gotta constantly, when we’re thinking about issues of racial progress or any kind of issue, recognize that things get better, but there’s still more work to do. And we shouldn’t be complacent about the very real existence of problems out there, but we shouldn’t despair and think nothing’s changed. If people of goodwill, which is the overwhelming majority of Americans, are working together, then these are problems we can solve.”