President Barack Obama addressed the nation shortly after it was announced that Ferguson, Mo., Officer Darren Wilson would not be criminally charged on any counts in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
The president called for peace, echoing Michael Brown Sr.’s words earlier this week in a video message.
“First and foremost we are a nation built on the rule of law. So we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry,” Obama said.
“It’s an understandable reaction, but I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully,” he said in his remarks. “Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words: ‘Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.’”
Obama urged law-enforcement officials to use “care and restraint” in managing any peaceful protests that may occur, while also encouraging protesters to remain calm.
“[Law enforcement officials] need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence, distinguish them from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact,” he said.
“Recognize the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation. Fact is, in too many parts of this country a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of it is the result of racial discrimination in this country, and this is tragic because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates,” the president added. “To those in Ferguson, there are ways of channeling your concerns constructively and there are ways of channeling your concerns destructively.”
However, even as the president called for peace and urged for understanding, violence erupted.
The Associated Press has reported that officers deployed smoke and pepper spray in an attempt to disperse an angry crowd near the Ferguson Police Department after some protesters reportedly started smashing in windows of a police car and throwing rocks and other projectiles at law-enforcement officials. A tweet appeared to show a police car on fire.
AP also reported that several gunshots were heard throughout the crowd.