President Barack Obama, back from vacation at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, once again stood before the nation to address the racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo., as well as the tensions between law enforcement and the black community, saying that he has spoken with state officials and plans to dig deeper into the circumstances of unarmed teen Michael Brown’s death.
The president said that Attorney General Eric Holder will be traveling to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with FBI agents and other Department of Justice personnel, who are currently conducting a federal criminal investigation. The DOJ Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Director Ronald Davis will also be making an appearance in the embattled town to work with police officials there.
Obama took the time to remind residents to remain calm in the face of the tragedy. “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 advances justice,” he said at the press conference Monday.
“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. There’s no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully,” he added. “Ours is a nation of laws: of the 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.”
The president lamented the loss of “the potential of a young man” while acknowledging the “frustrations of a community,” referencing the “gulf of mistrust” that currently exists between residents and law enforcement.
Obama also addressed the apparent militarization of the police force, pointing out that “one of the great things about the United States has been our ability to maintain a distinction between our military and domestic law enforcement,” saying that it helps preserve civil liberties.
The president acknowledged the post-9/11 scare that led up to the acquiring of military-grade equipment so that local communities would be able to brace themselves for a terrorist attack, but he also suggested that it might be time to review what the funding is going toward.
“I think it’s probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what … they’re purchasing is stuff that they actually need,” he said. “Because, you know, there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions.”
When asked by retiring ABC reporter Ann Compton if there was anything more that he could personally do to help with the situation in Ferguson, Obama responded, “I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed.”
“I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales,” Obama added. “So it’s hard for me to address a specific case, beyond making sure that it’s conducted in a way that [is] transparent, where there’s accountability, where people can trust the process, hoping that, as a consequence of a fair and just process, you end up with a fair and just outcome.”
Also on The Root: “The President’s Critics Are Wrong About His Response to Ferguson”