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.”