Right after the Missouri Grand Jury announced that they would not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of black teen Michael Brown Monday evening, Nov. 24, 2014, President Barack Obama made a statement in the White House briefing room urging calm from protesters and members of the Ferguson community and “restraint” from the police. Obama spoke for nine and a half minutes just after 10 PM, and discussing the racial problems, the country still faces.
President Obama addressed that the racial divide still exists in the country and pointed out; “We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to the broader problems that we still face as a nation.” The first African-American president does not address racial issues often there were only a handful of instances where he spoke about the still very divisive topic.
Obama asked that protesters not too become violent and obey the law; “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.” He acknowledged that decision will not doubt upset many who believe justice was not served; “There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction.”
In attempt, to calm the protesters, the president tried to convince the protesters the Browns would not want them to become violent over the decision. Obama recounted; “Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words: ‘Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides I do not want my son’s death to be in vain.’ I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.” The president urged the protesters to do something positive to make a change, saying; “there are ways of channeling your concerns constructively, and there are ways of channeling your concerns destructively.”
The Brown family has been trying to deter violent protests in the wake of the decision, and they released a statement after the announcement discouraging violence. The statement read; “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change.”
President Obama equally addressed the Ferguson police officers, and told them to “show care and restraint.” Obama indicated that racial divide and tension between the black population and the police is a lingering issue, that is still has not resolved; “The situation in Ferguson speaks to the broader challenges we still face as a nation.” Continuing Obama noted; “In too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and people of color…. Some of this is the result of racial discrimination in this country and this is tragic because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates. The good news is we know there are things we can do to help.” Obama also urged the media to be restrained in the coverage of the protests, telling them “There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it’ll make for good TV.”
President Obama concluded his statement promising to work to improve race relations and the problems between the police and the African American community. Obama expressed; “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. I want to be partners with those folks and we need to lift up the kind of constructive dialogue that is taking place.” Still when asked if he would be going to Ferguson Obama responded; “Let’s take a look and see how things are going.”
On Saturday Aug. 9, Ferguson police confronted African-American teenager Michael Brown, 18 and his friend suspecting Brown of having just robbed cigars from a convenience store. After what was a brief altercation, Darren Wilson, 28 shot Brown from his police car and outside of it, a total of six times, Brown was an unarmed at the time. Ferguson’s black community, which is in a majority felt the shooting was racially motivated, soon mourning turn to violent protests and vandalism and looting ensued, police confronted the protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets. The scene went on for a couple of weeks in August, and there have been periodical protests since then.
Just after 9 PM on Monday evening, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch made the official held a press conference, announcing the grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson on any charges. McCulloch declared to the media “no probable cause exists,” and although the jury was “presented with five indictments… murder in the first degree to involuntary manslaughter,” they decided against any charges. McCulloch explained, “All 12 jurors were present for every session and all 12 jurors examined every piece of evidence,” and that they “the only people who have heard and examined every witness.” The Brown family released a statement afterwards, saying; “We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.”
As predicted violence did erupt after the grand jury decision was announced. Ferguson and Missouri is in a state of emergency, and the city was preparing for the wave of protests that would follow the grand jury’s decision. Protesters took to the streets and as USA Today noted they “taunted police, shattered windows and set fire to police cars.” Although most protests are concentrated in Ferguson, there are protests being held all over the country in St Louis, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Florida, Los Angeles, and Topeka, Kansas among other cities across the nation. Protests are also being planned for tomorrow in “New Orleans, Nashville, Richmond, Va., Allentown, Pa., Knoxville, Tenn., and Tampa.”
- Remarks by President Barack Obama After the Announcement of the Decision by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 24, 2014
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.