COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A day before marking the 50th anniversary of the historic Selma civil rights march, and two days after the Department of Justice released a scathing report about racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, President Obama defended his administration’s decision not to prosecute the officer behind the controversial shooting death Michael Brown.
“The finding that was made [by the Department of Justice] was that it was not unreasonable to determine that there was not sufficient evidence to charge Officer [Darren] Wilson. That was an objective, thorough, independent federal investigation,” Obama said in response to a question at a town hall discussion on expanding minority youth opportunities," he said at a town hall meeting in South Carolina.
“We may never know exactly what happened. But Officer Wilson like anybody else who is charged with a crime benefits from due process and a reasonable doubt standard. And if there is uncertainty about what happened then you can’t just charge them anyway just because what happened was tragic.”
Regardless, Obama said the Justice Department investigation into racial bias in Ferguson’s police department was “very clear.”
“What we saw was that Ferguson police department in conjunction with municipality saw traffic stops, arrests, and tickets as revenue generators as opposed to serving,” he continued, adding the overwhelmingly white force was “systematically” biased, placing minorities under its care into an “oppressive and abusive situation.”
His Attorney Gen. Eric Holder sat in the audience at South Carolina’s Benedict College, a historically black liberal arts school.
Earlier on Friday, the president said the problems at Ferguson are not uniform across police departments in America, but they’re not isolated either.
Racist emails between officers and routine arrests of minorities without probable cause were also exposed in the investigation, which the agency found amounted to a “pattern and practice” of unlawful conduct by local law enforcement in a city where two in three residents are minorities. The findings would be seen as validation by supporters of the widespread protests to police killings of African-American men in Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York, which sparked a nationwide discussion about police force, race relations and how police treat minorities.
Some of those demonstrators from Ferguson are also planning to be in Selma.
Despite the harsh report, the agency said Wednesday it would not pursue charges against Wilson. A St. Louis grand jury also cleared him of an indictment at the state level last November.
Today was the president’s first trip to South Carolina since assuming the Oval Office.
ABC’s Kirsten Appleton contributed to this report.