WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has said that people protesting against racial discrimination in a city in the mid-western United States had “some very legitimate grievances”.
During a special guest appearance in a late-night television show on Thursday, President Obama also condemned the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, which he said had detracted people’s attention from the main issue of racial profiling.
The officers were shot early on Thursday morning towards the end of a demonstration outside the Ferguson police station. A 41-year-old St Louis County officer was wounded in the shoulder, and a 32-year-old officer from nearby Webster Groves was wounded near an ear. Both officers have been discharged from hospital.
“What had been happening in Ferguson was oppressive and objectionable and worthy of protest, but there was no excuse for criminal acts,” President Obama told his host, Jimmy Kimmel of ABC.
He urged the people to “marginalise” those who resorted to violence and disregarded others’ views. But he also warned them not to generalise. “In the same way that you can’t generalise about police officers … you can’t generalise about protesters who, it turns out, had some very legitimate grievances,” he said.
President Obama also referred to a recent report by the US Justice Department, which showed African-Americans in Ferguson were “being stopped disproportionately mainly so that the city could raise money, even though these were unjust”.
President cites a report and says protesters have legitimate grievances
He also said the “like-minded, good-spirited people” on both sides should “work together to try to come up with some good answers” for resolving this dispute.
Police commandos sent to Ferguson after Thursday’s shootings initially detained more than a dozen people who had converged near the shooting site, but later released them.
Tensions have been high in Ferguson since August when a police officer shot and killed an African-American teenager, Michael Brown, even though he was unarmed. The officer also delayed calling an ambulance to provide medical aid to the teenager, who died of excessive bleeding.
Tensions escalated in November after a grand jury in St. Louis County declined to prosecute Darren Wilson, the officer who had shot Brown. And in December, police in Berkley, another Missouri town near Ferguson, shot and killed 18-year-old Antonio Martin.
On March 4, the US Justice Department issued a report, which confirmed racial profiling in the Ferguson police force, and a municipal court system driven by profit, largely on the backs of black and low-income residents.
“What was happening in Ferguson was you had city government telling the Police Department … ‘Stop more people. We need to raise more money.’ Folks would get stopped,” said President Obama while explaining what caused widespread protests in Missouri.
“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 because they didn’t have enough money for the fines. And then they’d get fined for that,” he added.
“So there was a whole structure there, according to the Justice Department report that indicated both racism and just a disregard for what law enforcement’s supposed to do.”
Published in Dawn March 14th , 2015