President Obama called for “reflection and understanding” after the “heartbreaking” killing of an unarmed black 18-year-old shot to death by police in the town of Ferguson, Mo., over the weekend.
In his first comments about a killing that has triggered riots in the St. Louis suburb, Obama acknowledged that the shooting of Michael Brown has “prompted strong passions” and urged people to have a discussion “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,” Obama said in a statement issued while he vacationed in Martha’s Vineyard.
The president’s comments came after protestors and riot police clashed late Monday night in an area just blocks from the site of the shooting. Police officers shot tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of demonstrators who refused to disperse, according to multiple media reports.
Over the weekend, violent protests and looting stemming from the death led to more than 30 arrests on charges ranging from assault to burglary.
The lawmakers, including Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said there was “evidence of racial profiling by that department in the recent past” and that only the federal government had the resources and experience to “give this case the close scrutiny” it deserved.
“When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son,” Obama said. “Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”
Obama said that there were “very few African-American men” who hadn’t experienced prejudice and urged those who did not understand the frustration “in a historical context.” The president also noted “a history of racial disparity in the application of our criminal laws.”