Obama: Freedom of Press and Assembly Must Be ‘Vigilantly Safeguarded’ in Ferguson

President Obama says the attorney general is traveling to Missouri

President Obama addresses the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 18, 2014. (Getty Images)

President Obama said the small number of people who are looting and lashing out at police in Ferguson, Mo., are undermining calls for justice there. In a news conference Monday at the White House, the President also said freedoms of assembly and the press must be “vigilantly safeguarded” in the town.

The shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown has sparked a week of peaceful protests, as well as isolated incidents of looting and attacks on police. Officers have been accused of overreacting with tear gas, rubber bullets and mass arrests. The President said there was “no excuse for excessive force by police.”

Also read: Michael Brown Shooting Witness Releases Video: ‘I Knew This Was Not Right’ (Video)

He also called on protestors to police themselves.

“It is clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting,” he said. “What’s also clear is that a small majority of individuals are not. While I understand the passions and anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos that undermines, rather than advancing justice.”

Also read: Missouri Governor Calls National Guard to Ferguson After Michael Brown Autopsy (Video)

“Let me also be clear that our consitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded, especially in moments like these. There is no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully. Ours is a nation of laws, for citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them.”

The response to the Ferguson protests has sparked questions about the militarization of domestic police departments, which have been more heavily armed since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the wars overseas have left the military with surpluses of vehicles and arms, that are often passed on to local police. Obama said one of the best parts of the U.S. was the separation of its police and military, and that separation should continue. He said it would be “useful” to review how counter-terrorism money has been spent locally.

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Mr. Obama also said Attorney General Eric Holder is traveling to Ferguson on Wednesday. The Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into the shooting, which police say took place after Brown tried to take the gun of the officer who shot him.

The news conference found Obama addressing crises in the Midwest and Middle East alike. He also noted that American air strikes have pushed back ISIS’s advance in Iraq, and that U.S.-backed Kurdish and Iraqi security forces have won back Iraq’s largest dam, near Mosul, from ISIS. The President then stressed that the U.S. would not be recommitting thousands of American troops to Iraq.