President Obama: Don't Use Ferguson as 'An Excuse for Violence'
As a grand jury debates whether to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, President Obama - in an exclusive interview with ABC News - urged residents of the city and all others to "keep protests peaceful."
"This is a country that allows everybody to express their views. Allows them to peacefully assemble, to protest actions that they think are unjust. But using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are," Obama told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos during an interview conducted Friday for "This Week."
The grand jury is in the midst of determining if Wilson - who fatally shot Brown on Aug. 9 - should be charged for the incident. It is not known precisely when a decision by the grand jury will be reached.
Sources told ABC News the grand jury will reconvene Monday.
On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Brown's father asked for calm ahead of the decision. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has also declared a state of emergency in preparation, and the FBI is sending approximately 100 of its own to the St. Louis area in anticipation of possible unrest that could mirror the chaos that ensued after Brown was shot earlier this year.
In the interview, President Obama noted the concerns of "communities of color that often times feel as if they not being treated fairly by law enforcement officials," adding that he hopes law enforcement in Missouri handles any protests in a "careful and appropriate way."
"We saw during the summer the possibility of even overwhelmingly peaceful crowds being overrun by a few thugs who might be looking for an excuse to loot or to commit vandalism," Obama told Stephanopoulos. "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."
Asked whether he agreed with Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who said this earlier week that "if we have a miscarriage of justice in Ferguson, we can have the same reaction that people had toward Selma," President Obama responded that today's problems are solvable.
"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," said the president. "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 and best practices that we've seen instituted in lot of parts of the country."
Despite the unrest in Ferguson, President Obama said he is confident that racial relations have improved in the U.S., while new technology may be exposing more incidents of conflict.
"Part of what happens is that they get a lot more attention today - occasionally problems that used to be pretty common 20, 30 years ago weren't videotaped … Now, you know, somebody's got a camera and people see it," Obama said.
"I think that folks on the other side of it might not understand why there are concerns or mistrust. Not because they're in denial, just they haven't experienced it," he added. "And 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 either or to suggest somehow that we haven't made progress."