President Obama invoked the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Wednesday, telling diplomats gathered for the UN General Assembly that in the United States "we have our own racial and ethnic tensions."
“I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within our own borders. This is true,” Obama said. “In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri – where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.”
The nearly 40-minute speech focused primarily on the need for the international community to band together to combat terrorist and militant groups.
The remarks were the second time Obama has addressed on a national stage the ongoing fallout of the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white.
The shooting prompted weeks of protests calling for Wilson’s arrest, with protesters clashing at times with heavily-armed police officers, prompting several international groups and foreign governments to condemn the police action.
In his speech Wednesday, Obama directly addressed those critics.
“We welcome the scrutiny of the world – because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect,” Obama said. “America is not the same as it was 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals, and are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short.”
Obama’s remarks Wednesday come just one day after Attorney General Eric Holder – who often serves as Obama’s surrogate on issues of race and ethnicity – said the nation was at a “moment of decision” following the Ferguson shooting and called for the country to “reassess” the way law enforcement interacts with minorities.
"Will we yet again turn a blind eye to the hard truths that Ferguson exposed? Or will we finally accept this mandate for open and honest dialogue?" Holder asked on Tuesday during a speech at New York University.