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.
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.
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.
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