President Obama: Don't Use Ferguson As 'Excuse For Violence'

The president discusses the simmering tensions in Ferguson, Missouri ahead of a grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case, and his take on the state of race relations in the U.S.
5:20 | 11/23/14

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Transcript for President Obama: Don't Use Ferguson As 'Excuse For Violence'
Now to our ABC news exclusive with president Obama waiting just like the rest of us to hear from that grand jury bracing for possible violence. That's where we begin. Your FBI has warned about possible violence in the wake of that decision. What is your message to the people of Ferguson and others who are looking to protest? Well, I think first and foremost to protest peaceful. This is a country that allows everybody to express their views, but using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are. In Ferguson -- You know, part of what I've asked Eric holder to do is to not just engage with the folks in Ferguson, but to engage nationally in a conversation between law enforcement and communities of color that oftentimes feel as if they are not being treated fairly by law enforcement officials. Sometimes their concerns are justified. Sometimes they're not justified. Law enforcement has a very tough job. Are you worried here? You know, we saw during the summer the possibility of even overwhelmingly peaceful crowds being overrun by a few thugs. What I've done is called jay Nixon, the governor of Missouri, to make sure that he has a plan to respond in a careful and appropriate way to any potential violence. To be able to sort out the vast majority of peaceful protesters from the handful who are not. You know, in the end what I have confidence in is that if we do a better job of training our law enforcement to be sensitive to the concerns of minority communities, then over time trust can be built in part because minority communities typically are subject to more crime. They need law enforcement more than anybody, and there are a lot of communities in my hometown of Chicago, for example, who actually want to see more police in, but they want to make sure that the police are trained so they can distinguish between a gangbanger and a kid who just happens to be wearing a hoodie but otherwise is a good kid and not doing anything wrong. One of your heroes, John lewis, has suggested if there's no indictment in this case it would be a miscarriage of justice and another turning point like Selma. Do you agree with that? You know, I love John. I didn't see the quote, so I don't want to comment on what John specifically said, but I will say this, that the kinds of ongoing problems we have with police and communities of color around the country are not of the sort that we saw in Selma. We're not talking about systematic segregation or discrimination. They are solvable problems if, in fact, law enforcement officials are open to the kind of training that and best practices that we've seen instituted in a lot of parts of country. Do you think it would make sense for you to go to Ferguson after this decision? You know, I'm going to wait and see how the response comes about, but, you know, what does make sense is for not just me but my entire administration to work with willing partners at the state and local level to see how we can address some of these systemic issues. What about the broader issues of race, I mean, I was struck by a poll I saw recently that said since 2009, the number of african-americans who think that race relations are getting better has actually gone down. My own experience tells me that race relations continue to improve. If you think about, you know, just in our lifetimes -- we're about the same age -- where we've traveled, there's no way to say that somehow race relations are worse now than they were 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 50 years ago. Part of what happens is is that they get a lot more attention today. You know, occasionally problems that used to be pretty common, 20, 30 years ago weren't videotaped. Everybody knows -- Now somebody has a camera and people see it and -- It could be a good thing sometimes. Which is a good thing, I mean, a good thing in the sense it lays bare, and I've said it before as an african-american male, there have been times where I've experienced discrimination as a young man, it's been a while since it happened and, you know, I think that folks on the other side of it might not understand why there are concerns or mistrust, so when people start seeing these instances, then they start saying, okay, maybe we understand what we're talking about, but it's important not to overreact or suggest somehow that we haven't made progress. One of the things that I think the presidency drives home is, you know, in a democracy progress is incremental, you know, and it goes in stutter steps, and sometimes there's some back-sliding, but the overall trajectory I think is positive.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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