Obama on Thursday: 'There Are Biases, Some Conscious and Unconscious, That Have to Be Rooted Out'

Susan Jones | July 8, 2016 | 5:29am EDT
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President Barack Obama turns from the podium after making a statement on the fatal police shootings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota after arriving in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, July 8, 2016. Obama traveled to Poland to attend the NATO summit and then will travel on to Spain. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(CNSNews.com) - Hours after President Obama told the nation that all Americans should be troubled by news of recent police shootings, the police themselves came under fire in Dallas.

At least four snipers opened fire Thursday night on police deployed to the protest, killing five officers and injuring at least six. It is not yet clear if the snipers had any connection to the protest, which had been peaceful.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown said early Friday morning that it appeared the shooters "planned to injure and kill as many officers as they could."

Hours earlier, Obama expressed his condolences to the families of Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge and Philando Castile of Minnesota, both black men seen on videotape as police shot and killed them.

"These are not isolated incidents," Obama said. "They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system."

Although he refused to comment on the specifics of the two most recent cases, Obama told the nation, "We have seen tragedies like this too many times."

"This is not just a black issue," he said. "It's not just an Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about, all fair-minded people should be concerned."

Obama noted that the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the police shooting in Baton Rouge and the governor of Minnesota is calling for a similar investigation there.

"So, you know, when people say black lives matter, that doesn't mean blue lives don't matter. It just means all lives matter, but right now, the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents.

This isn't a matter of us comparing the value of lives. This is recognizing that there's a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens and we should care about that. And we can't dismiss it. We can't dismiss it," he repeated.

Obama offered the following statistics:

-- African-Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over.

-- After being pulled over, African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched.

-- Last year, African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.

-- African-Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites.

-- African-American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums.

-- They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.

-- The African-American and Hispanic population, which comprises only 30 percent of the general population, make up more than half of the incarcerated population.

"Now, these are facts," Obama said. "And when incidents like this occur, there's 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 expressed his "extraordinary appreciation and respect for the vast majority of police officers who put their lives on the line to protect us every single day. They have got a dangerous job. It is a tough job.

"And as I've said before, they have a right to go home to their families just like anybody else on the job. And there are going to be circumstances in which they have to make split-second decisions. We understand that.

"But when we see data that indicates disparities in how African-Americans and Latinos may be treated in various jurisdictions around the country, and it's incumbent on all of us to say, we can do better than this, we are better than this, and to not have it degenerate into the usual political scrum."

Obama touted the recommendations of his civil rights/police task force, and he urged all police departments to adopt those recommendations.

He urged Congress to pass criminal justice reform legislation. And urged the American people not to "fall into the typical patterns that occur after these kinds of incidents occur, where right away there's a lot of political rhetoric and it starts dividing people instead of bringing folks together."

"To be concerned about these issues is not to be against law enforcement," Obama said. If minorities don't trust police, it makes things more difficult for police who are "doing the right thing."

'We can do better'

Obama concluded his remarks by he truly believes "the vast majority" of Americans see police shootings "as a problem that we should all care about.

"And I would just ask those who question the sincerity or the legitimacy of protests and vigils and expressions of outrage, who somehow label those expressions of outrage as quote-unquote, 'political correctness' -- I just ask folks to step back and think, what if this happened to somebody in your family? How would you feel?

"To be concerned about these issues is not political correctness. It's just being American and wanting to live up to our best and highest ideals.

"And it's to recognize the reality that we've got some tough history and we haven't gotten through all of that history yet. And we don't expect that in my lifetime, maybe not in my children's lifetime, that all the vestiges of that past will have been cured, will have been solved, but we can do better.

"People of good will can do better. And doing better involves not just addressing potential bias in the criminal justice system. It's recognizing that too often we are asking police to man the barricades in communities that have been forgotten by all of us for way too long in terms of sub-standard schools and inadequate jobs and a lack of opportunity.

"We've got to tackle those things. We can do better. And I believe we will do better."

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