President Barack Obama urged Americans on Thursday to begin the healing process in Ferguson, Mo. after the shooting death of a Missouri teenager by local police led to nights of unrest outside St. Louis.
“Today, I'd like us all to take a step back and think about how we're going to be moving forward,” Obama said from Martha’s Vineyard, where he and his family are vacationing. “Now's the time for healing. Now's the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.”
Obama said residents should be mistreating police and, similarly, officers should not be harassing protestors or journalists who are doing their jobs.
“We all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority,” 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 rights. And here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.”
The shooting of Michael Brown has led to five days rioting, vandalism and looting as well as complaints across the nation that local police have overreacted in the way they are treating residents. Two reporters were arrested Wednesday night.
“I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened,” he said. “But let's remember that we're all part of one American family.”
Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was allegedly shot by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer following an altercation, according to news reports.
“It's important to remember how this started,” Obama said. “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.”
Obama said he spoke to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon earlier Thursday. Nixon has been criticized by some for not doing more but Obama called him a “good man and fine governor.”
Obama was briefed Wednesday night Holder and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett on the situation in Ferguson.
Holder announced on Monday that the FBI and Justice Department opened an investigation into Brown’s death.
“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 are protecting the people in their communities,” Obama said.
It was Obama’s first comments on the issue.
On Tuesday, he issued a statement describing the death “heartbreaking” and urged Americans to remember Brown through “reflection and understanding.”
“We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve,” he said.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is visiting Ferguson Thursday, said she is scheduled to speak with Holder to discuss what she described as the “totally unacceptable” situation on the ground as well as the status of the federal civil rights investigation.
“We need to de-militarize this situation—this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution,” McCaskill said. “I obviously respect law enforcement’s work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right. Today is going to be a new start, we can and need to do better.”
On Wednesday, McCaskill said she spoke with Molly Moran, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice and dozens of local officials, law enforcement, and religious leaders, in an ongoing attempt to deescalate the situation.