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Obama: Police shootings show U.S. has a ‘serious problem’

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    In this Wednesday photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. T

WASHINGTON >> The fatal police shootings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota show the U.S. has a “serious problem,” President Barack Obama said today. He said he shares feelings of “anger, frustration and grief” that police killings have triggered across the country.

In his first public reaction to the shootings, Obama said it is clear they were not isolated incidents, adding that the U.S. had “seen such tragedies far too many times.” He said all Americans should be “deeply troubled” by the deaths in Baton Rouge and suburban St. Paul.

“They are symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve,” Obama wrote in a Facebook post.

Obama’s diagnosis of the problem reflected a growing sense of frustration and willingness to speak out publicly about police killings despite the risk of making law enforcement officers feel under attack.

The White House has sought to avoid weighing in on specific cases, particularly while they’re being investigated, and Obama said he was limited in what he could say about the facts. Early in his presidency, Obama caused a major stir when he said a Massachusetts officer had “acted stupidly” in arresting a black Harvard University professor at his home.

Yet despite Obama’s efforts to bridge misunderstandings between African-Americans and the police, the problem clearly persists, and the wide use of cellphone cameras and social media has thrust the issue further into public view. In 2014, Obama created a task force to develop modern policing guidelines, and he urged local communities and policing agencies to implement those recommendations drafted by the Justice Department.

“To admit we’ve got a serious problem in no way contradicts our respect and appreciation for the vast majority of police officers who put their lives on the line to protect us every single day,” Obama said. “It is to say that, as a nation, we can and must do better to institute the best practices that reduce the appearance or reality of racial bias in law enforcement.”

Obama said he is “encouraged” that the Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation into the incident in Louisiana, where 37-year-old Alton Sterling was fatally shot Tuesday as he tussled with two white officers outside a convenience store in a predominantly black neighborhood. The shooting was caught on tape and went viral online.

On Wednesday in Minnesota, a man identified as 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot to death during a traffic stop. His girlfriend posted video of the aftermath of his killing live on Facebook, saying he had been shot “for no apparent reason” while reaching for his wallet as an officer had asked.

Obama has wrestled for much of his presidency with the policing issue, the “Black Lives Matter” movement and his role as the first black president in responding to it. After the issue burst into the spotlight in 2012 with the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, Obama insisted the U.S. take the issue seriously and added, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”

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Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

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  • In Baton Rouge the right procedure would have been to command the suspect down and not tackle him. Police departments employment race ratio should reflect the community makeup.

    • right. you always request cooperation from an armed suspect, so he can draw his weapon first. and police departments shouldn’t look for people who can read and write and speak english, or who don’t have felony convictions.

  • “..despite Obama’s efforts to bridge misunderstandings between African-Americans and the police, the problem clearly persists”. Exactly what has he done to bridge misunderstandings, I must have missed it. The only things I’ve seen is his efforts to put the blame only on the police. This man who entered office with the hope of the nation to improve racial relations has made it worse. His support of the Black Lives Matter movement is the best example of that.

  • The A-Christ wants everyone, especially people of color to stand against police who are trying desperately to uphold the law while surviving each day doing the dirty work. Maybe he should employ his drones to enforce the laws in these neighbor-hoods. Cool, let’s have no authority in communities where anarchy rules. Talk is cheap coming from someone of high status with body guards for him and his family 24-7.

  • Electing a black president did jack as far as racial violence. I don’t recall as much black killing by cops by any past presidents other than Obama’s term.

  • It’s naive to think race isn’t part of the problem. Of course it is. But another part of the problem is the easy access to guns in this country. Even if race was no longer a factor, how are police supposed to know whether someone is armed or not, when it’s so easy to get a gun? If I were a police officer, I would just assume ever person I stopped was armed. That doesn’t mean to shoot immediately, but it does escalate all police encounters. I suppose I could use the NRA’s argument that if the victim had a gun, he wouldn’t be dead now. The irony.

  • Cops nowadays are too young and immature. Hire college grads. They have better control of their emotions and possess better communication skills. They are less prone to violent reactions like the criminals themselves. You gonna pay college level salaries then hire college level intelligence. Change the entrance exam questions every year. Too many cheat tests are running around.

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