By Justin Sink - 08/14/14 01:32 PM EDT
President Obama on Thursday called for “peace and calm on the streets” of Ferguson, Mo., after “disturbing” clashes between police and protesters stemming from the police killing of an unarmed black teenager.
The president said there was “never an excuse for violence” against police, but also said there was “no excuse” for excessive police force.
“Now is the time for healing,” Obama said in remarks from Martha's Vineyard. “Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson. Now is the time for an open and transparent process to make sure justice is done.”
Obama spoke one day after a dozen people — including reporters for The Huffington Post and The Washington Post — were arrested, and local police, already facing accusations of using excessive force in the incident, fired smoke bombs and tear gas into crowds of demonstrators.
It was the fourth night in a row of unrest in the St. Louis suburb following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer who has yet to be identified.
Local police have come under intense criticism for their handling of the situation, and there were reports on Thursday that they would be relieved from their responsibilities.
The comments from Obama were his first public, on-camera remarks about Ferguson. He also discussed the situation in Iraq. Immediately after making his comments, the president headed to the golf course.
Obama said he had ordered Attorney General Eric Holder, who briefed him earlier Thursday about the latest developments in Ferguson, to “do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened, and to see that justice is done.”
The Justice Department's Civil Rights division and the FBI will both be involved in the investigation into Brown's death.
Obama sought to balance his comments on Thursday.
He said that “police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are trying to do their jobs” and said police had a responsibility to protect protesters' First Amendment rights.
The president added that local authorities “have a responsibility to be open and transparent” on the progress of their investigation and said there was “no excuse” for the use of excessive force.
But the president also said there was “never an excuse for violence against police” or the looting and vandalism that has taken place amid the demonstrations.
“There're going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That's part of our democracy,” Obama said. “But let's remember that we're all part of one American family.”
Obama had issued a written statement declaring Brown’s death as heartbreaking earlier this week, but Thursday’s were his first public comments on the controversy.
"It's important to remember how all this started. We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances," Obama said.
The president also said he had spoken with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) — who he described as a “good man and fine governor” — about the situation.
“I'm confident that, working together, he's gonna be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way,” Obama said.
Shortly before the president spoke, Nixon told civil rights activists and clergy in Ferguson he planned to announce an “operational shift” of police officers in the area. It is widely expected Nixon will order a pullout of the county police officers that have clashed with protestors.
“I think you will all see a different tone,” Nixon said.
Some lawmakers have called on Obama to take more severe steps, including calling in the National Guard or declaring martial law in Ferguson.
Lawmakers from both parties have criticized an overly militarized police in the suburb.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the public deserves a full disclosure into the events that led to the "heartbreaking" death of Michael Brown.
"It is hard to think that the scenes unfolding in Ferguson are taking place in an American city in the year 2014," he said. "The nation's eyes are on the city of Ferguson and we will be watching closely... Every community in America deserves equal justice and equal protection under the law."
This story was updated at 2:41 p.m.