President Obama is “deeply disturbed” by this week’s police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, his top spokesman said Thursday.


White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president "is following the situation closely.”

It was the first White House reaction to the killings of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man who was shot dead by police in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile, 32, whom police fatally shot during a traffic stop outside Minneapolis.

Parts of both incidents were caught on video, but it's not clear if Obama has viewed the footage.

Earnest declined to comment on the Louisiana killing, citing a Justice Department investigation into the incident. The department is also weighing a probe of the Minneapolis shooting.

But the spokesman encouraged law enforcement agencies to adopt the recommendations of a White House task force that outlined ways to rebuild trust in their communities. The task force's suggestions, released last year, include better community-relations training and transparency of data on violent incidents. The Obama administration also started a $23 million pilot program to expand the use of body cameras by police officers.

“This does not have to be the new normal,” Earnest said. “There is something that can be done; there are steps that can be taken to address this problem. … This continues to be a very high priority of the president.”

The twin shootings — which occurred within 24 hours of each other — stirred nationwide anger.

Deaths in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and New York City have cast a cloud over Obama’s presidency, as the White House has often struggled to mend frayed ties between police departments and the communities they serve.

While Earnest urged police to adopt reforms, he added that “we owe a deep debt of gratitude to our men and women in law enforcement” for their efforts to protect communities from crime.