Mr. Holder will meet with community leaders, as well as FBI and Justice Department personnel investigating the police killing of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9. The incident has triggered demonstrations, looting, and violence as local and state law enforcement have struggled to restore order. Local residents are demanding answers over the racially charged incident. The officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown is white.
Mr. Obama, back in Washington for two days of meetings in the middle of his vacation, spoke directly to the people of Ferguson in remarks to reporters in the White House briefing room.
Recommended: Race equality in America: How far have we come?
“So to a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other,” Obama said. “Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other.”
The president also sought to put some perspective on the dramatic footage coming out of Ferguson, a majority-black St. Louis suburb of 21,000 residents.
“It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting,” Obama said. “What’s also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not. While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving in to that anger by looting or carrying guns and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines rather than advancing justice.”
The president later suggested that it may not even be residents of Ferguson who are engaging in criminal behavior.
It was Obama’s second public comment on Ferguson in five days, on a day when Missouri’s governor, Jay Nixon (D), deployed the National Guard to try to restore order. In addition, the results of the first of three autopsies on Mr. Brown were released. The autopsy, performed at the request of Mr. Brown’s family, found that he had been shot at least six times, including twice in the head.
Obama didn’t comment on the autopsy, stressing instead that much remains unknown about the incident that led to Brown’s death.
“I have to be very careful about not pre-judging these events before investigations are completed,” Obama said, noting that both local and federal law enforcement are involved. “When they’re conducting an investigation, I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other.”
Obama called for transparency and accountability, so that “people can trust the process hoping that as a consequence of a fair and just process, you end up with a fair and just outcome.”
As the first black president, Obama must contend with conflicting demands at a time of heightened racial sensitivities. The nation’s eyes turn to him with particular attention, not only because he’s president but also because of his race. And yet over his five and a half years as president, he has grown increasingly cautious in reacting to events so as not to inflame a sensitive situation. That approach can be a source of frustration among his most loyal constituency, African Americans.
Obama seems to prefer discussing his initiative known as My Brother’s Keeper, which aims to help young minority men stay on the right path. He brought it up on Monday.
“In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear,” the president said. “Through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, I’m personally committed to changing both perception and reality, and already, we’re making some significant progress as people of good will of all races are ready to chip in.”
Obama was asked Monday if he might to go Ferguson himself, but the president didn’t answer the question. For now, the attorney general, who is also African American, will go on the president’s behalf. Agencies