Ferguson grand jury: Barack Obama appeals for calm as violence flares over decision


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The Independent US

Even as violence was starting to flare on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who shot an unarmed teenager in August, President Barack Obama took to the airwaves to argue that progress towards healing will not be made through violence.

“That won’t be done by smashing car windows, it won’t be done by using this as an excuse for damaging property and certainly it won’t be done by hurting anybody,” a sober Mr Obama said from the press room of the White House about one hour after the decision was announced.

Many Americans will have watched Mr Obama delivering his appeal for calm and restraint on a split screen while images directly from Missouri on the other side of their screens showed the first volleys of tear gas being fired by police at protestors who were starting to fill the streets.

Mr Obama acknowledged that America would be divided in its response to the verdict with many glad to see the police officer spared of possible criminal responsibility while many others will be “disappointed, even angry”.  However, he said that the country needed to use the moment to draw lessons and do what it should do to address the grievances and difficulties that exist.

“We do have work to do here and we shouldn’t try to paper it over,” the president said. “Whenever we do that the anger may momentary subside but over time it builds up and American isn’t everything that it could be.”  He went on: “If we focus our attention on the problem and look at what has happened…. then we can make progress not just in Ferguson but in other communities and cities around the country.”

As with many other government officials, Mr Obama intimated that the powder keg of emotions may in part be stirred by the media.  “There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction and it will make for good TV,” he said, exactly recognising what viewers were seeing at that moment.

Mr Obama said protestors should understand that they live in a country based on the rule of law and that in the end they would need to accept the decision of the grand jury.  He drew attention also the fact that the family of the victim of the 9 August shooting, Michael Brown, had themselves appealed before the verdict was released for calm and for those disappointed not to resort to violence.

Because the Ferguson tragedy has been so thickly overlaid with the narrative of racial tensions in America, Mr Obama, as the country’s first black president, may have felt obliged to come in front of the cameras at this moment even though he has in the past flinched from injecting his own race into public affairs.