President Obama Gives His Take On the Ferguson Grand Jury’s Decision

In an attempt to bring calm and peace to the situation in Ferguson, President Obama in an address called on the nation to seize the moment and use it as an opportunity for change.

He noted that either way, the decision by the grand jury was going to be the subject of intense disagreement not only in Ferguson, but across America.

He explained that the country was one built on the rule of law and the decision was the grand jury’s to make and the people to accept.

He said that there are Americans who will agree with the decision, and there are others who are deeply disappointed, even angry.

He viewed the situation as an understandable reaction and advised people to honor Michael Brown’s parents request that those who are inclined to protests to do so peacefully.

Photo Credit: The White House - President Barack Obama works with Director of Speechwriting Cody Keenan and Senior Presidential Speechwriter David Litt in the Oval Office.
Photo Credit: The White House – President Barack Obama works with Director of Speechwriting Cody Keenan and Senior Presidential Speechwriter David Litt in the Oval Office.

The President said, “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.”  Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes.”

In addition, he said, “I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur. Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day.  They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law. As they do their jobs in the coming days, they 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.”

President Obama further posits that we need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation.

“The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates. The good news is we know there are things we can do to help. And I’ve instructed Attorney General Holder to work with cities across the country to help build better relations between communities and law enforcement,” he argued.

He added, “That means working with law enforcement officials to make sure their ranks are representative of the communities they serve. We know that makes a difference. It means working to train officials so that law enforcement conducts itself in a way that is fair to everybody. It means enlisting the community actively on what should be everybody’s goal, and that is to prevent crime.”

The President stated that there are good people on all sides of this debate, who are interested in working collectively in tackling much-needed criminal justice reform.

He further said, “We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America. We have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades. I’ve witnessed that in my own life. And to deny that progress I think is to deny America’s capacity for change.”

“But what is also true is that there are still problems and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.  Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion. I don’t think that’s the norm. I don’t think that’s true for the majority of communities or the vast majority of law enforcement officials. But these are real issues.  And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down. What we need to do is to understand them and figure out how we make more progress.  And that can be done,” he continued.

He noted, however, that throwing bottles, smashing car windows, vandalizing property and hurting people will not lead to a common understanding and resolution of the issues.

“There’s never an excuse for violence, particularly when there are a lot of people in goodwill out there who are willing to work on these issues,” said the President.

“There are ways of channeling your concerns constructively and there are ways of channeling your concerns destructively. Michael Brown’s parents understand what it means to be constructive. The vast majority of peaceful protesters, they understand it as well,” he noted

Davy Desmond Readers Bureau, Fellow

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