President Obama interrupted his Martha’s Vineyard vacation on Thursday to address the ongoing crises at home and abroad. After providing an update on the U.S.-led humanitarian effort in Iraq, Obama focused his remarks on Ferguson, Missouri, which has been in turmoil following the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by local police.
Acknowledging that the images of police clashing with protesters have been “deeply disturbing,” the president called on those on both sides of the conflict to take a step back.
“It’s important to remember how this started. We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. He was 18 years old. His family will never hold Michael in their arms again. And when something like this happens, the local authorities, including the police, have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death and how they’re protecting the people in their communities,” Obama said. “There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment right.”
Earlier in the week, the president delivered a brief statement on the incident in which he urged the residents of Ferguson and communities across the nation to not let the “strong passions” the tragedy has prompted to take over. But that is easier said than done, and in the largely African-American Missouri community, where those passions are particularly raw, there has been daily unrest and clashes with the local police.
The police arrested more than 10 people on Wednesday, including Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman, and two reporters writing up their stories inside a McDonald’s, who said they were treated roughly by the police, which was “horrifying.”
The police chief’s refusal to name the officer who killed Brown has only exacerbated tensions, so on Thursday morning, the computer hacking collective known as Anonymous disclosed his name and is threatening to publish more information about him unless it hears from the St. Louis County Police Department.
Attorney Gen. Eric Holder is monitoring developments and FBI agents have been dispatched to supplement the investigation. But members of the Congressional Black Caucus strongly believe that the police department at the center of the controversy cannot be trusted to properly investigate itself, especially given the decades-long tension with residents, and is calling on the Justice Department to lead the inquiry.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill also has little faith in the local police and admonished their handling of the protesters. The police have become “the problem instead of the solution” because they’ve not respected or protected citizens’ right to have peaceful protests, she said in a statement and called for the situation to be “de-militarized.”
Obama said that “now is the time for healing” and called for “peace and calm” as the investigation unfolds.
“I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward,” he said. “That’s part of our democracy. But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law, a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest, a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.”