President Barack Obama called for calm in Ferguson, Mo., on Thursday, and said the FBI and Department of Justice are both launching independent investigations into the police shooting of an unarmed teenager.
Speaking from a press conference near Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, Obama said DOJ officials are also talking with local authorities about how they can maintain public safety without obstructing peaceful protests. Conflicts and clashes between police and protesters have escalated in the days following the death of Michael Brown.
“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 protestors,” Obama said. Obama expressed confidence in Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who is visiting the Ferguson area Thursday. Nixon, a Democrat, said at a community meeting that he would “make some operational shifts” in the law enforcement response, and promised community members would see a different tone.
Some in Congress also have criticized the police response , with Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill saying in a statement, “We need to de-militarize this situation – this kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also defended the press after two reporters covering the protest were arrested Wednesday night. “Reporters should never be detained — a free press is too important — simply for doing their jobs. Civil liberties must be protected, but violence is not the answer,” Cruz wrote on Facebook.
Obama said, “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. Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority.”
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga, said it is “a shame and a disgrace that a city with a significant African-American population has only three representatives from that community on the police force.”
Lewis added, “This is not 1940 or 1950 in America, but today it is hard to see the difference.”
Obama noted that, “emotions are raw right now in Ferguson” and there are conflicting reports about how Brown’s death occurred and what should happen going forward. He said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. would continue to report to him on the situation in Ferguson.
“Now is the time for healing, now is the time for peace and calm in the streets of Ferguson, and now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done,” Obama said.