Obama said there will be people who are disappointed and angry with the verdict.
"It's an understandable reaction," he said. However, "we are a nation built on the rule of law, and so we have to accept this decision as the grand jury's to make."
Obama also urged the police, who he praised for "putting their lives on the line for us every day," to manage the situation peacefully and work "with the community, and not against the community" to distinguish those who want to use the decision as an "excuse from violence" from those who are peacefully protesting.
But Obama also said the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges in America -- that in many areas, there is a "deep distrust" between law enforcement and the communities they police.
"We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson. This is an issue for America," he said.
Obama touched on the personal, reflecting on race relations over the past several decades. "I've witnessed that in my own life and to deny that progress I think is to deny America’s capacity for change," he said. "But what is also true is that there are still problems, and communities of color are not just making these problems up."
There are issues in which the law "too often feels as though it is being applied in a discriminatory fashion," he said, and while it is not "the norm," it is a fact that must be addressed. The issues, Obama said, won't just go away. "We do have work to do here and we shouldn’t try to paper it over," he said.
"That won’t be done by throwing bottles," he said. "That won’t be done by smashing car windows. That won’t be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property and it certainly won't be done by hurting anybody."
Obama said he has ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to help facilitate better relationships between law enforcement and communities and that there are "good people on all sides of the debate" who are interested in criminal justice reform and better police-community relations.
Obama did not answer a question about whether he would be visiting Ferguson, saying only "let's take a look and see how things are going."
He said the media will have a responsibility to show the efforts of community, clergy and civil rights leaders in Ferguson.
"There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it will make for good TV," Obama said. "But what we want to do is to make sure that we're also focusing on those who can offer the kind of real progress that we know is possible, that the vast majority of people in Ferguson, the St. Louis region, in Missouri and around the country are looking for. And I want to be partners with those folks," he said.