President Barack Obama addressed the outrage surrounding the fatal shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police officers in recent days, calling the racial disparity in police killings an “American issue” that should concern all U.S. citizens.
“All of us as Americans should be troubled by these shootings,” the president said in a speech that he delivered in the middle of the night from Warsaw, Poland, where he is attending a NATO summit. “These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”
Sterling was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday after a 911 caller reported seeing a man with a gun. A day later, Castile was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer during a routine traffic stop. Both shootings were captured on video, immediately sparking outrage online.
“This is not just a black issue, this is not just a Hispanic issue, this is an American issue that we should all care about,” said Obama.
“To law enforcement I want to be clear: We know you have a tough job,” he said, reassuring them that it is possible to both support police officers and address the racial biases that exist throughout the criminal justice system.
“There is no contradiction between us supporting law enforcement … and also saying that there are problems across our criminal justice system. There are biases, some conscious and some unconscious that need to be rooted out. That’s not an attack on law enforcement.”
Obama also expressed some hope that Congress, which “is having difficulty, generally, moving legislation forward,” would be able to push through some kind of criminal justice reform, saying that he has heard from politicians on both sides of the aisle who are invested in making it happen.
He concluded by saying that the burden of racial inequality does not just lie on the shoulders of politicians and police officers. The police are asked to “man the barricades in communities that have been forgotten by all of us for too long,” he said.
“We can do better,” he concluded. “And I believe we will do better.”