Obama Speaks on the Ferguson Decision

The president made a statement just after it was announced that a grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson, as smoke bombs and broken glass spread through Ferguson.

A protestor stands in front of police vehicles with his hands up during a demonstration on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
Nov. 24, 2014, 5:14 p.m.

At the cul­min­a­tion of a tu­mul­tu­ous day, Pres­id­ent Obama spoke from the White House on the de­cision made in Fer­guson not to pro­sec­ute the po­lice of­ficer who shot and killed an 18-year-old black man in Au­gust.

“We need to ac­cept that this de­cision was the grand jury’s to make,” Obama said Monday night. “There are Amer­ic­ans who agree with it, and there are Amer­ic­ans who are deeply up­set, even angry. It’s an un­der­stand­able re­ac­tion. But I join Mi­chael’s par­ents in ask­ing any­one who protests this de­cision to do so peace­fully.”

A St. Louis County grand jury de­cided not to in­dict Fer­guson po­lice of­ficer Dar­ren Wilson in the shoot­ing of Mi­chael Brown, the un­armed 18-year-old who was killed by Wilson’s gun­fire in Au­gust. County Pro­sec­utor Bob Mc­Cul­loch an­nounced the news Monday even­ing in a press con­fer­ence.

The de­cision has been months in the mak­ing, and threatens to re­ignite ten­sions in Fer­guson between heav­ily-armed po­lice and pro­test­ers in the area.

“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,” Obama said, high­light­ing the need for crim­in­al justice re­form. “We need to re­cog­nize that this is not just an is­sue for Fer­guson, this is an is­sue for Amer­ica.”

Already, there are re­ports of gun­shots in Fer­guson among large crowds. Cable news has broad­cast im­ages of flam­ing cars, broken store win­dows, and fly­ing can­is­ters. CNN aired foot­age of a li­quor store be­ing looted.

Obama asked po­lice in the area “to show care and re­straint in man­aging peace­ful protests that may oc­cur.” While say­ing that po­lice have a “tough job” to do, he asked that “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.”

Asked if he would go to Fer­guson, Obama left the door open. “Let’s take a look and see how things are go­ing,” he said. “Eric Hold­er’s been there. We’ve had a whole team from the Justice De­part­ment there. And I think that they have done some very good work.”

Hold­er, for his part, is­sued a state­ment just be­fore 11 p.m. Monday, not­ing that the Justice De­part­ment in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the shoot­ing con­tin­ues. “Mi­chael Brown’s death was a tragedy,” Hold­er said. “This in­cid­ent has sparked a na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion about the need to en­sure con­fid­ence between law en­force­ment and the com­munit­ies they pro­tect and serve.” Hold­er joined Obama in call­ing for peace. “Those who de­cide to par­ti­cip­ate in demon­stra­tions should re­mem­ber the wishes of Mi­chael Brown’s par­ents, who have asked that re­mem­brances of their son be con­duc­ted peace­fully. It does not hon­or his memory to en­gage in vi­ol­ence or loot­ing.”

Just after Obama con­cluded speak­ing, CNN’s Jake Tap­per re­por­ted that tear gas has been launched, in part in re­sponse to people who have smashed car wind­shields. St. Louis County Po­lice ini­tially re­futed that re­port, say­ing that po­lice are “us­ing smoke to break up un­ruly crowds.” But even­tu­ally the de­part­ment did dis­perse tear gas, once they deemed smoke to be “un­suc­cess­ful.”

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