President Obama felt the need to take to TV for the second time in four days, and while on “vacation,” to address the tinderbox that is Ferguson, MO, since the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson nine days ago. (Obama also addressed what he described as progress in Iraq, including the recapture of the largest dam in that country, which had fallen under terrorist control earlier this month.)
“It’s clear the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting,” Obama said. “What’s also clear is that a small minority are not. While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving in to that anger by looting, or carrying guns, and even attacking the police, only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines, rather than advances, justice. Let me also be clear that our constitutional rights to speak freely and to assemble and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded, especially in moments like these. There is no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right protest peacefully.”
Obama noted that “in too many communities around the country a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.”
Obama announced Attorney General Eric Holder would go to Ferguson on Wednesday to get an update on the independent federal civil rights investigation into Brown’s death that has been opened by the DOJ. Holder already had instructed the DOJ to arrange for an additional autopsy to be performed by a federal medical examiner. Asked if he would travel to Ferguson himself, Obama said he had to tread carefully. “Obviously we’ve seen events in which there is a big gulf between community perceptions and law-enforcement perceptions around the country. This is not something new. It’s always tragic when it involves the death of someone so young. I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed. Because although these are issues of local jurisdiction, the DOJ works for me. And when they’re conducting an investigation, I’ve got to make sure I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or other. So it’s hard for me to address specifics of the case, beyond making sure that it’s conducted in a way that is transparent, where there’s accountability, where people can trust the process, hoping that, as a consequence of a fair and just process, you end up with a fair and just outcome.”
Obama already had addressed the situation in Ferguson twice before, in the days since the black teen was shot by the white officer– one written statement and another statement delivered on national TV. This morning, before his TV appearance, his critics blasted him for not having specifically discussed the shooting, the protests and the violence in racial terms. And TV journalists filling time while waiting for Obama to take the podium speculated that if they got to ask Obama questions it would surely come up.
Though a report had been circulating that Obama flew back to the White House, interrupting his vacation, because the optics of Martha’s Vineyard weren’t working, given the seriousness of the two quickly changing situations, the White House said the president arrived at the White House early today for a “scheduled” break in his family vacation, according to a White House pool report.
When he last spoke for the TV cameras – before the name of the officer was released in conjunction with video of Brown robbing a convenience store earlier, and the media was focused on the arrest and tear gassing of journalists covering the developing news story, Obama said, “Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their job and report to the American people what they see on the ground.” He also said there was no excuse for violence against the local police. “To put it simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard — particularly those of us in positions of authority,” Obama said in a statement he made from Martha’s Vineyard, which was carried live by cable news networks as well as ABC, CBS, NBC, as well as Fox broadcast stations.
Early this morning, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said he was deploying the state National Guard to Ferguson, to handle “intensifying violent attacks” in the town that have followed the release of Wilson’s name, and the state of emergency and curfew announced over the weekend. Wilson said there would not be a curfew tonight and the Guard’s mission would be “limited.”
Obama’s comments today followed by several hours a news conference held by Brown’s family to release results of a preliminary autopsy they asked for, indicating Brown was shot at least six times, including two shots that hit him in his head and four in his right arm. Dr. Michael Baden, former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who conducted the autopsy, said the bullet the struck Brown near the top of his skull caused the fatal injury. And, not long before Obama’s appearance, CNN broadcast audio of a radio report, in which someone who purported to know Wilson’s version of what happened said Brown had allegedly punched Wilson in the face and grappled for his gun (after Wilson realized Brown matched the description of the suspects in a local robbery), before running away with Wilson in pursuit, turning when Wilson ordered him to freeze and, after taunting the officer, allegedly rushed Wilson, at which point Wilson opened fire.