Obama's remarks about Ferguson, Missouri

AP News
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Posted: Nov 25, 2014 6:53 PM

CHICAGO (AP) — President Barack Obama spoke in Chicago on Tuesday about immigration but opened his remarks with comments about the grand jury decision and ensuing violence in Ferguson, Missouri. What he said about Ferguson, as transcribed by Federal News Service:

As many of you know, a verdict came down — or a grand jury made a decision yesterday that upset a lot of people. And as I said last night, the frustrations that we've seen are not just about a particular incident. They have deep roots in many communities of color who have a sense that our laws are not always being enforced uniformly or fairly.

Now, it may not be true everywhere, and it's certainly not true for the vast majority of law enforcement officials, but that's an impression that folks have and it's not just made up. It's rooted in realities that have existed in this country for a long time. Now, as I said last night, there are productive ways of responding and expressing those frustrations, and there are destructive ways of responding. Burning buildings, torching cars, destroying property, putting people at risk — that's destructive, and there's no excuse for it. Those are criminal acts, and people should be prosecuted if they engage in criminal acts.

But what we also saw — although it didn't get as much attention in the media — was people gathering in overwhelmingly peaceful protests here in Chicago, in New York, in Los Angeles, in other cities. We see young people who are organizing, and people began to have real conversations about how do we change the situation so that there's more trust between law enforcement and some of these communities. And those are necessary conversations to have.

You know, we're here to talk about immigration, but part of what makes America this remarkable place is, being American doesn't mean you have to look a certain way or have a certain last name or come from a certain place. It has to do with a commitment to ideals, a belief in certain values. And if any part of the American community doesn't feel welcomed or treated fairly, that's something that puts all of us at risk, and we all have to be concerned about.

So my message to those people who are constructively moving forward, trying to organize, mobilize and ask hard, important questions about how we improve the situation, I want all of those folks to know that their president is going to work with them. And I think you'll find a lot of separate and apart from the particular circumstances in Ferguson, which I am careful not to speak to because it's — it's not my job as president to comment on ongoing investigations and specific cases — but the frustrations people have generally, those are rooted in some hard truths that have to be addressed. So I — those who are prepared to work constructively, your president will work with you. And a lot of folks I believe in law enforcement and a lot of folks in — in city halls and governors' offices across the country want to work with you as well.

So as part of that, I've instructed Attorney General Eric Holder not just to investigate what happened in Ferguson but also identify specific steps we can take together to set up a series of regional meetings focused on building trust in our communities. And next week we'll bring together state and local officials and law enforcement and community leaders and faith leaders to start identifying very specific steps that we can take to make sure that law enforcement is fair and it is being applied equally to every person in this country.

And we know certain things work. We know that if we train police properly, that that improves policing and makes people feel that the system's fair. We know that when we have a police force that is representative of the communities it's serving, that makes a difference. We know that — so we know that when there's clear accountability and transparency when something happens, that makes a difference.

So there's specific things we can do, and the key now is for us to lift up the best practices and work city by city, state by state, county by country all across this country, because the problem is not just a Ferguson problem, it is an American problem, and we've got to make sure that we are actually bringing about change.

The bottom line is nothing of significance, nothing of benefit results from destructive acts. I've — I've never seen a civil rights law or a health care bill or an immigration bill result because a car got burnt. It happened because people vote. It happened because people mobilized. It happened because people organized. It happens because people look at what are the best policies. It happens because people look at, what are the best policies to solve the problem? That's how you actually move something forward. So don't — so don't take the short-term, easy route and just engage in destructive behavior. Take the long-term, hard, but lasting route of working with me and governors, state officials to bring about some real change.

And to those who think that what happened in Ferguson is an excuse for violence, I do not have any sympathy for that. I have no sympathy at all for destroying your own communities. But for the overwhelming majority of people who just feel frustrated and pain, because they get a sense that maybe some communities aren't treated fairly or some individuals aren't seen as worthy as others, I understand that. And I want to work with you, and I want to move forward with you. Your president will be right there with you, all right? So that's what we need to focus on. Let's be constructive.