Obama: ‘Police Should Not Be Bullying or Arresting Journalists’

By Melanie Arter | August 14, 2014 | 1:52 PM EDT

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

(CNSNews.com) – In a press conference Thursday, President Barack Obama commented on the fallout of the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson, Mo., police, saying there was “no excuse for violence against police,” the use of “excessive force against peaceful protests” or for police to bully or arrest journalists “just trying to do their jobs.”

“There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Obama.

“And here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground,” he said.

At least 30 people were arrested after looting began Sunday, followed by clashes with police. On Monday, police began using tear gas and riot gear to quell violence. The FAA on Tuesday imposed a temporary flight restriction over Ferguson after a police helicopter came under fire Monday night.

Kate O’Brian, president of Al Jazeera America, issued a statement after police released tear gas near its news crew in Ferguson Wednesday night. The episode was caught on tape.

“An Al Jazeera America news crew was reporting behind police barricades. They were easily identifiable as a working television crew. As they were setting up their camera for a live report, tear gas canisters landed in their proximity and police fired rubber bullets in their direction,” O’Brian said.

“Police continued to shoot after crew members clearly and repeatedly shouted ‘Press’. Al Jazeera America is stunned by this egregious assault on freedom of the press that was clearly intended to have a chilling effect on our ability to cover this important story,” she said. “Thankfully all three crew members are physically fine. We believe that this situation must be investigated along with those involving our colleagues at other media outlets.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI were called in to investigate Brown’s death, Obama said. The Justice Department has been consulting with local authorities on ways to “maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation,” he said.

“Of course it’s important to remember how this started. We lost a young man – Michael Brown - in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. He was 18 years old. His family will never hold Michael in their arms again,” the president said.

“And when something like this happens, the local authorities, including police have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death and how they are protecting the people in their communities,” he added.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon will be traveling to Ferguson. Obama said Nixon will “communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done” and that public safety will be “maintained in an appropriate way.”

“I expressed my concern about the violent turn that events have taken on the ground and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened and to find a way to come together going forward,” Obama said.

“Put simply: we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority. I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson, and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened,” the president said.

“There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred. There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward. That’s part of our democracy, but let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family,” said Obama.

The president said the nation is “united in common values” which includes “belief in equality under the law, a basic respect for public order, and the right to peaceful public protest, a reverence of every single man, woman, child among us, and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.”

In addition to a time for healing, Obama called for “peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.”

“Now’s the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done, and I’ve asked that the attorney general and the U.S. attorney on the scene to continue to work with local officials to move that process forward,” Obama said. “They will be reporting to me in the coming days about what’s being done to make sure that happens.”