President Obama condemned the shooting that wounded two Ferguson, Mo., police officers Wednesday night in an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” saying “there was no excuse for criminal acts.” But he said it should not “detract” from the issues raised by the events in Ferguson. It was his first statement about the shooting. Both officers are expected to recover and left the hospital Thursday.
“Whoever fired those shots shouldn’t detract from the issue,” Obama said. “They’re criminals. They need to be arrested. And then, what we need to do is to make sure that like-minded, good-spirited people on both sides — law enforcement, who have a terrifically tough job, and people who understandably don’t want to be stopped and harassed just because of their race — that we’re able to work together to try come up with some good answers.”
Obama, who was in Los Angeles for a political fundraiser sat down for a mostly lighthearted interview with comedian Kimmel. The two talked about life in the White House — the president tried out a friend’s electric car within the White House gates, which Secret Service was apparently not happy about — and he participated in Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” segment, which requires guests, usually celebrities, to read a series of absurd things people tweet at them.
“Obama’s hair is looking grayer these days,” the president read from one such tweet. “Can’t imagine why since he doesn’t seem to be one bit worried about all that’s going on.”
The president talked at length about the situation in Ferguson following the release of a Justice Department report that found the city was systematically targeting black citizens for traffic stops, fines, and arrests. Kimmel asked the president about the officers and about his speech in Selma commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights marches across the Edmund Pettus bridge.
“Obviously we don’t yet know what happened,” Obama said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the officers and their families and thankfully, as you said, they’re going to be okay. What was beautiful about Selma was reminding ourselves that real social change in this country so often has happened because ordinary people are willing, in a non-violent fashion, to make their voices heard and I think what was happening in Ferguson was oppressive and objectionable and was worthy of protest but there was no excuse for criminal acts.”
“Well, what was happening in Ferguson was you had city government telling the police department that ‘Stop more people. We need to raise more money.’ Folks would get stopped. They’d get tickets. Then, they’d have to wait in line to pay it, take a day off work, folks would lose their jobs. In some cases they were thrown in jail ’cause they didn’t have enough money for the fines, and then they’d get fined for that.
“There was a whole structure there, according to the Justice Department report, that indicated both racism and just a disregard for what law enforcement is supposed to do,” Obama said. “And as I said before, I said this in Selma, it is not unique, but it’s also not the norm. We’ve got to constantly, when we’re thinking about issues of racial progress, or any kind of issue, recognize that things can get better, but there’s still more work to do and we shouldn’t be complacent about the very real existence of problems out there, but we shouldn’t despair and think nothing’s changed. If people of good will, which is the overwhelming majority of Americans, are working together, these are problems we can solve.”
You can see the video of Obama reading his “Mean Tweets” below:
After the segment ran, Kimmel thanked the President for being a good sport.
“I’ve to tell you, those weren’t that mean,” Obama said. “You should see what the Senate says about me!”