WARSAW, Poland — President Barack Obama said early Friday that while recent police-involved shooting incidents in the U.S. are “symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system,” it’s a concern that should trouble all Americans.
“When incidents like this occur, there is a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin they are not being treated the same. And that hurts. And that should trouble all of us,” Obama said after a transatlantic flight to Warsaw. “This is not just a black issue, not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue. All fair-minded people should be concerned.”
Obama is in Poland, where he’s set to begin NATO meetings later Friday. Hours earlier, Obama used his Facebook page to first comment on the pair of fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota respectively were partially captured in cell phone videos that quickly went viral and sparked renewed discussions about fatal police force against African-Americans.
“We’ve seen such tragedies far too many times, and our hearts go out to the families and communities who’ve suffered such a painful loss,” Obama wrote on his Facebook page.
He said he was “encouraged” that the Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But, he wrote, “Regardless of the outcome of such investigations, what’s clear is that these fatal shootings are not isolated incidents. 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.”
He continued, “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. 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.”
He concluded his statement by saying all Americans should “recognize the anger, frustration and grief that so many Americans are feeling” over the shootings.
“Michelle and I share those feelings,” Obama wrote.
Vice President Joe Biden also weighed in Thursday, saying he has “more anger I share with the country” over the incidents.
“More black lives lost. More anger I share with the country. More broken trust we have to restore. We all must do this,” Biden tweeted.
Earlier Thursday, video surfaced of a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, fatally shooting Castile, an African-American man, during a traffic stop.
Sterling, 37, died earlier in the week after a police shooting in Baton Rouge.
Speaking to reporters earlier Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest called on community leaders to do more to strengthen the bonds of the trust between law enforcement officials and the communities they are sworn to protect.
“What I can say in general is that (President Barack Obama) is deeply disturbed by these reports. He is following the situation closely,” Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Poland for a NATO summit.
Both Obama and Earnest cited the 21st Century Task Force the President created in response to similar incidents in recent years and to efforts across the country to implement the committee’s recommendations. The committee calls for promoting diversity in law enforcement agencies, encouraging a culture of transparency within agencies and encouraging officers to more closely engage with members of communities where there is a high law enforcement presence through non-enforcement activities.