WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama called anger over a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown an “understandable reaction.”
But he urged protesters to remain peaceful, and called on law enforcement officers in the city of Ferguson to exercise “care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur.”
“We are a nation built on the rule of law, and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” Obama said late Monday night. “There are Americans who agree with it and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.”
But as the president spoke — including warning protesters that throwing bottles and smashing car windows won’t help — hundreds of people marching in Ferguson were doing just that. Police responded by warning those protesters that they’d gathered unlawfully and fired tear gas into the crowd.
“There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it’ll make for good TV,” Obama said.
“But what we want to do is to make sure that we’re also focusing on those who can offer the kind of real progress that we know is possible — that the vast majority of people Ferguson, the St. Louis region, in Missouri and around the country are looking for,” he said. “I want to be partners with those folks and we need to lift up the kind of constructive dialogue that is taking place.”
Asked whether he will visit Ferguson, Obama said: “Let’s take a look and see how things are going.” He pointed to Attorney General Eric Holder’s visits to the area.
The grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson was sharply criticized by the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Marcia Fudge, who called the proceedings a “miscarriage of justice.”
“It is a slap in the face to Americans nationwide who continue to hope and believe that justice will prevail,” the Ohio Democrat said. “This decision seems to underscore an unwritten rule that black lives hold no value; that you may kill black men in this country without consequences or repercussions. This is a frightening narrative for every parent and guardian of black and brown children, and another setback for race relations in America.”
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, said he joins Brown’s family in urging protesters to remain peaceful — and said he hopes to see law enforcement officers improve their tactics after Brown’s death.
“I’ve talked extensively to law enforcement officials to learn more about the tactics, resources, and procedures that our first responders utilize statewide,” Blunt said in a statement. “Law enforcement officials have been candid in identifying ways officers could have handled the situation in Ferguson better, and I trust those recommendations will be helpful as we continue to count on them to protect us.”