As tensions between police and residents of Ferguson, Missouri continue to roil in the wake of the police killing of unarmed teenager Mike Brown, and the police’s martial response to its aftermath, President Obama delivered a statement from Martha’s Vineyard Thursday afternoon denouncing the “excessive force” by police against peaceful protesters, and the harassment and arrest of journalists.
Following an update on the situation in Iraq, where the siege of Mount Sinjar has ended, the President devoted the bulk of his statement to events in Ferguson. He said that he has been receiving updates from Attorney General Eric Holder, and promised a thorough, independent investigation. President Obama also said he had spoken with Governor Jay Nixon (D-MO), and expressed “concern over the violent turn events have taken on the ground, and underscored now is the time for all of us to reflect on what has happened and find a way to come together going forward.”
The President also spoke movingly about Michael Brown, saying “It is important to remember how this started. We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in a heartbreaking and tragic circumstance. He was 18 years old. His family will never hold Michael in their arms again.”
President Obama then turned to the police response, adding that “when something like this happens, the local authorities, including police, have the responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating the death, and how they are protecting people in their communities.”
In case there was any doubt which “violent turn” he was talking about, the President went on to say that while “there is never an excuse for violence against police, or those who would use the tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting,” he added that “there is also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protesters, or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”
“Here in the United States of America,” Obama continued, “police should not be bullying or arresting journalists just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people what they are seeing on the ground. Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us positions in authority.”
While not as strongly put as some would like, the President’s statement, within the confines of what a president can say under such circumstances, was remarkable in its rebuke of police behavior in the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing, police behavior which began with an overwhelming response on Saturday, and has escalated from there.