President Barack Obama on Tuesday addressed the eruption of protests and riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, condemning the violent demonstrations while acknowledging that the underlying problems plaguing the city are "not new" and will require national "soul-searching" to solve.
During a press conference with Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Obama was asked by NBC News' Chris Jansing about the growing frustration that not enough is being done in communities like Baltimore.
Obama said his thoughts are with Gray's family as well as the police injured in Monday's protests, and he criticized the violent approach taken by some demonstrators.
"There's no excuse for the kind of violence we saw yesterday," he said. "It is counterproductive. When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they're not protesting. They're not making a statement. They're stealing. When they burn down a building they're committing arson, and they're destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities that rob jobs and opportunities from people in that area."
Obama said the violent protests "distracted" from the largely peaceful protests over the weekend.
"They were constructive and they were thoughtful," he said of those demonstrations. "And frankly it didn't get much attention. And one burning building will be looped on television ... and the thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way have been lost in the discussion."
He continued, "Since Ferguson and the task force that we put together, we have seen too many incidences of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals -- primarily African-American, often poor -- in ways that raise troubling questions. It comes up, it seems like, once a week now. Or once every couple of weeks. So I think its pretty understandable why the leaders of civil rights organizations, but more importantly moms and dads, might start saying this is a crisis. What I'd say is this has been a slow rolling crisis."
"This is not new," he said. "And we shouldn't pretend this is new."
Obama urged police unions to work with communities and "acknowledge that this is not good for police."
"We have to own up to the fact that occasionally there are going to be problems here," he said.
However, he added, change needs to go beyond law enforcement.
"We can't just leave this to the police. I think there are police departments that have to do some soul-searching. I think there are some communities that have to do so some soul-searching. But I think we as a country have to do some soul-searching. This is not new. It's been going on for decades," he said. "If we are serious about solving this problem, then we're going to not only help the police, we're going to have to think about what we can do, the rest of us."
He pointed to policy changes including investing in infrastructure, bolstering early education and reforming the criminal justice system.
"That's hard. That requires more than just the occasional news report or task force," he said. "If we really want to solve the problem, we could, it's just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant and that we just don't pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns. And we don't just pay attention when a man gets shot or has his spine snapped."
Violent protests broke out in the Maryland city on Monday following the funeral for Gray, the 25-year-old who died last week after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody. At least 15 police officers were injured and 27 individuals were arrested during Monday's protests.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard, making 5,000 troops available to patrol the city.
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