President Obama urged those upset by a grand jury’s decision in Ferguson, Mo., to demonstrate peacefully and avoid violence.
Speaking less than an hour after the announcement that a grand jury had not indicted police officer Darren Wilson on any charges related to the killing of black teenager Michael Brown, Obama said he understood why some Americans “are deeply disappointed, even angered.”
"Michael Brown's parents have lost more than anyone,” he continued. “We should be honoring their wishes.”
In a statement issued shortly after the decision was announced, Brown’s family called on demonstrators to keep their protests peaceful and work toward a campaign to mandate that police officers across the nation wear body cameras.
“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” the Brown family said in a statement. “We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”
The president also called on law enforcement officials operating in the St. Louis suburb “to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests.”
Obama also called the ruling presented a moment to examine the “broader challenges we still face as a nation.” He said he had instructed Attorney General Eric Holder, who is spearheading a civil rights investigation into the incident, to work more broadly on bridging divisions between law enforcement and communities.
“In too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color,” Obama said.
“We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America,” he continued. “There are still problems. Communities of color are not just making this up."
St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch announced earlier Monday that a 12-member grand jury had opted against indicting Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Brown, on any of five possible criminal charges. McCulloch said the panel had met for nearly 70 hours and heard from dozens of witnesses.
Obama said the American people needed “to accept this decision was the grand jury’s to make.”
Protesters gathered outside the White House after the president's remarks, with some lying down on Pennsylvania Avenue, according to reports.
For Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, Monday’s events posed a difficult challenge.
The president has spoken at length about lingering problems with race relations and the criminal justice system in the United States. But he’s also argued, as he did again on Monday, that a path forward involves working collaboratively to address racial animus.
“We do have work to do here, and we shouldn't try to paper it over,” Obama said.
The president was also facing a tough optical challenge. Even as he spoke, networks were broadcasting images of clashes between police and protesters on the streets of Ferguson.
The president pleaded with broadcasters to tell the stories of civil rights protesters and peaceful demonstrators, and not just show instances of violence.
“There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it’ll make for good TV,” Obama said.