Watch President Obama's Speech About Baltimore & The Freddie Gray Protests That Have Enveloped The City — VIDEO
By now, you've probably heard that things got pretty bad in West Baltimore Monday night. Basically, the Freddie Gray protests; the Baltimore Police Department that still hasn't explained how he died; and longstanding, deep suspicions and resentments combined to boil over. The outcome was a lot of property damage in Baltimore, reports of injured police, and general chaos. In other words, exactly the sort of scene you'd expect the President to weigh in on. And indeed he did, during a presser at the White House Tuesday — President Obama's statement on Baltimore and Freddie Gray made appeals to both sides of the conflict, while drawing a bright line between peaceful protesters and havoc-makers.
Obama delivered the remarks from the south lawn of the White House, and he wasn't actually there for that reason — as detailed by CNN, he was welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on an official visit. But with the news out of Baltimore obviously weighing heavy right now, it's no surprise that he decided to expound on it a bit. He started by saying that his thoughts were with the family of Freddie Gray, citing the DOJ's decision to investigate his death, and added the same about the police officers who were injured.
First, obviously our thoughts continue to be with the family of Freddie Gray. Understandably they want answers, and the DOJ has opened an investigation, and is working with local law enforcement to find out exactly what happened and I think there should be full transparency and accountability. Second, my thoughts are with the police officers who were injured in last night's disturbances. It underscores that that's a tough job, and we have to keep that in mind, and my hope is that they can heal and get back to work as soon as possible.
From there, he moved on to condemn the violence in forceful terms, denying arson and theft as legitimate forms of protest.
There's no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive. When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they're not protesting. They're not making a statement. They're stealing. When they burn down a building, they're committing arson. And they're destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities. That rob jobs and opportunity from people in that area. ... that's not a protest. That's not a statement. It's a handful of people taking advantage of a situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals.
He didn't stop there, however — he also touched on the longstanding, often-problematic state of policing towards black communities, calling it a "slow-rolling crisis," according to NBC News.
What I'd say is this has been a slow-rolling crisis. This has been going on for a long time. This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new. The good news is, is that perhaps there’s some newfound awareness because of social media and video cameras and so forth that there are problems and challenges when it comes to how policing and our laws are applied in certain communities, and we have to pay attention to it and respond. ... I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching. I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching. But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching..
Obama went one step further, as detailed by USA Today, chiding the media for its thirst for dramatic footage and narratives: "One burning building will be looped on television over and over and over again, and thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way, I think, have been lost in the discussion."
All in all, it was a thoroughly nuanced and from-all-sides assessment, and it's good he made it when he did — with tensions still ratcheted up in Baltimore, to say the least, and so many questions central to the Freddie Gray protests still unanswered, this statement was basically a matter of when, not if.