Obama: Fatal Police Shootings of Blacks Should Concern All Americans


U.S. President Barack Obama said, “We’ve seen tragedies like this too many times,” in remarks to journalists about the fatal police shootings of two African-American men in the United States over the past two days.

The shootings again have raised questions about excessive police force, particularly against minorities.

Obama spoke early Friday, shortly after arriving in Warsaw, Poland for a NATO summit.obama

The president said all Americans should be concerned about the problem of frequent police shootings of black people, which he called “symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist” in the U.S. justice system.

He said those disparities are backed up by statistics that show African-Americans and Hispanics are treated differently by police.

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the fatal police shootings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota after arriving in Warsaw, Poland, July 8, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement on the fatal police shootings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota after arriving in Warsaw, Poland, July 8, 2016.

“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,” he said. “And that hurts.”

Earlier this week, an African-American man was fatally shot by a police officer during a routine traffic stop in the Midwestern city of Falcon Heights, Minnesota, prompting Governor Mark Dayton to call for an independent federal investigation.

Police say 32-year-old Philando Castile of nearby St. Paul was killed after a policeman pulled over the vehicle.

They said the incident began when an officer initiated a traffic stop, but they have not further explained what led to the shooting. They said the officer involved has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure in cases like this.

Race played a role

Governor Dayton said he does not believe Castile would have been treated that way if he had been white.

“All the facts aren’t known, but from evidence that’s been presented, the video that’s been taken, nobody should be shot and killed in Minnesota for a traffic, a tail light being out of function. Nobody should be shot and killed while they are seated still in their car,” Dayton, who is white, said on Thursday.

The state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called in to investigate.

A child and a woman were passengers in the car when Castile was killed. Shortly after the shots were fired, the woman began broadcasting video on her cellphone, streaming it live on her private Facebook account.

Castile was shown slumped in the car and bleeding profusely with at least one officer pointing a gun through the driver’s side window.

The shooting came one day after police killed 37-year-old Alton Sterling in the southern city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Two white officers, responding to a call about an armed man, had pinned Sterling to the ground when at least one officer shot him. The investigation into the shooting is being led by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

Earlier Thursday, Obama said in a Facebook posting he is confident in law enforcers’ ability to conduct thorough and fair investigations into the shootings, but he emphasized they are not isolated incidents.

“They are symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve,” he said.

The problem, Obama said, does not contradict “our respect and appreciation for the vast majority of police officers who put their lives on the line to protect us every single day.”

The president mentioned his two-year-old program, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, as one effort to improve community policing, but emphasized the need for “communities to address the underlying fissures that lead to these incidents.”

Reform measures

President and CEO of the NAACP William Brooks told VOA the rights organization is pushing for the passage of several pieces of legislation, including comprehensive racial profiling laws at the state and federal levels.

“The laws that govern when police can use lethal force need to be reformed and they need to be reformed now,” said Amnesty International’s Jamira Burley. “Philando Castile should not have had to fear for his life during a traffic stop.”

Samuel Walker, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska and an expert on police accountability, told VOA, “There’s deep-seated racial prejudice” among some white Americans “and that plays out in police encounters.”

Walker said some police officers have “an unconscious bias” that causes them to “react accordingly.”

“We’re really the prisoners of our history in this country,” he added.

With the proliferation of video recording devices, Walker said the United States is in the midst of “a digital revolution of policing” that is having a “tremendous effect” on the practice nationwide.

Although fatal police shootings go unabated, videos have had a “huge impact on public understanding of policing,” he said.

There have been 509 fatal police shootings in the United States in 2016 compared to 990 last year, according to a national database maintained by The Washington Post.