Within two days, two black men were fatally shot by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, and broadcast across a nation historically divided by racial lines. President Barack Obama addressed the incidents on Thursday saying that all Americans should be troubled by the shootings.
“These are not isolated incidents,” President Obama said. “They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system. And I just want to give people a few statistics to try to put in context why emotions are so raw around these issues.”
He was restricted on what he could say about the first killing, which took place on Tuesday morning in Baton Rouge, because the Justice Department’s civil rights division has taken the lead on the investigation. But he continued on, citing statistics that are heavily relied upon by activists groups against police violence.
“African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over,” he continued.” 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 Americans defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost ten percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.”
Adding these numbers up, he said, are exactly why the African-American and Hispanic population, who make up 30 percent of the general population, “make up more than half of the incarcerated population.”
While speaking in Poland, he asked Americans to try and consider this perspective because this is why people of color believe they are not being treated the same as the white population.
“To be concerned about these issues is not political correctness. It’s just being an American,” President Obama said. “And to recognize the reality that we got some tough history and we haven’t gotten through that history yet.”
The address came one day after Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota as his girlfriend live streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook. Governor Mark Dayton requested that the Justice Deparment take over the investigation but the department said that it would only monitor the shooting instead of conducting its own probe.
“Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white?” Governor Dayton asked reporters on Thursday. “I don’t think it would have.” Police departments across the country have been heavily condemned by critics if they refused to work the Justice Department.
President Obama also addressed the protests following the incidents, which grew in Baton Rouge, New York City and several others cities across the country as he gave his speech.
“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 ‘political correctness,’ I just ask folks to step back and think,” he said. “What if this happened to somebody in your family? How would you feel?”
“We can do better,” he said, "and I believe we will do better."
Hillary Clinton, who recently received the president’s endorsement, also addressed the killings late Thursday night. “America woke up to yet another tragedy of a life cut down too soon,” the presumed Democratic frontrunner wrote on Twitter. “Black Lives Matter.”
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