President Barack Obama said early Friday that Americans should feel outraged at episodes of police brutality since they’re rooted in long-simmering racial discord.
Speaking in Warsaw immediately after landing here for a NATO summit, Obama called the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile “tragedies” and demanded that the country as a whole “do better.”
Confronting issues of race and violence yet again after a spate of similar incidents during his presidency, Obama delivered a fact-based argument that African-Americans are more likely to suffer at the hands of law enforcement.
Citing statistics showing minorities are more likely to be pulled over, searched or shot at by police, Obama said it was incumbent on the country to aim for better — including recognizing deep-seated biases that must be “rooted out.”
“If communities are mistrustful of the police, that makes those law enforcement offers who are doing a great job, who are doing the right thing, that makes their lives harder,” Obama said, insisting that recognizing problems within law enforcement doesn’t equate to being anti-police.
“When people say ‘black lives matter,’ it doesn’t mean that blue lives don’t matter,” Obama said, referring to police officers. “But right now, the data shows that black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents. There is a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens.”
Obama addressed reporters assembled in a makeshift hotel briefing room after a seven-hour transatlantic flight on Air Force One. He spoke just before 1 a.m. local time, the urgent timing underscoring Obama’s deeply felt opinions on the subject, which he’s spoken about at length after police brutality incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and South Carolina.
The shooting deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota this week were partially captured in cell phone videos that quickly went viral and sparked renewed discussions about fatal police force against African-Americans.
“When incidents like this occur, there is a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin they are not being treated the same. And that hurts. And that should trouble all of us,” Obama said in his statement. “This is not just a black issue, not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue. All fair-minded people should be concerned.”
Hours earlier, Obama used his Facebook page to comment on the shootings.
“We’ve seen such tragedies far too many times, and our hearts go out to the families and communities who’ve suffered such a painful loss,” Obama wrote on his Facebook page.
He said he was “encouraged” that the Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But, he wrote, “Regardless of the outcome of such investigations, what’s clear is that these fatal shootings are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve.”
He continued, “To admit we’ve got a serious problem in no way contradicts our respect and appreciation for the vast majority of police officers who put their lives on the line to protect us every single day. It is to say that, as a nation, we can and must do better to institute the best practices that reduce the appearance or reality of racial bias in law enforcement.”
He concluded his statement by saying all Americans should “recognize the anger, frustration and grief that so many Americans are feeling” over the shootings.
“Michelle and I share those feelings,” Obama wrote.
Vice President Joe Biden also weighed in Thursday, saying he has “more anger I share with the country” over the incidents.
“More black lives lost. More anger I share with the country. More broken trust we have to restore. We all must do this,” Biden tweeted.