President Barack Obama appealed for calm Monday evening after the announcement that a grand jury declined to indict the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown after an encounter in August.
Speaking from the White House about an hour after St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced the long-awaited decision involving the officer, Darren Wilson, Obama called for the incident to spark a larger discussion of race issues in America.
“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to the broader challenges we still face as a nation,” he said. “In too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.”
Obama urged all sides to show restraint, keeping in line with the Brown family’s wishes. “There’s inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it’ll make for good TV,” he said, while also asking law-enforcement officials to “show care and restraint” in dealing with peaceful protesters in Ferguson and around the country.
As he spoke, television news networks aired split-screen video footage of police deploying tear gas and smoke grenades at demonstrators, a small number of whom turned violent soon after the decision was announced.
Obama cautiously avoided wading into the substance of the grand jury’s decision. “We need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” he said. “It’s an outcome that, either way, was going to be a subject of intense disagreement not only in Ferguson, but across America.”
Brown’s death and the subsequent protests in the St. Louis suburb captured national attention this summer, prompting multiple presidential statements that requested calm. At the time, Obama also ordered the Department of Justice to carry out an independent investigation of the incident, which is ongoing.
The President has historically tiptoed around discussing the issue of race, but has gradually become more vocal since the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012. That includes launching the My Brother’s Keeper initiative last year to help young men of color. He has also deployed outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder to work with law enforcement in Ferguson and elsewhere to help ease tensions.
Obama held out the possibility in his remarks that he might visit Ferguson, but no trip is expected until the situation in the city calms down.