WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on Thursday that the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men who were killed by police in recent months, are "serious tragedies" that warrant more answers.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Boehner offered his first public comments on the decisions of two separate grand juries not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths of Brown and Garner. A grand jury declined last week to indict Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, for killing Brown, and on Wednesday, it was announced that Officer Daniel Pantaleo would not be indicted for the death of Garner in Staten Island, New York.
"Clearly both of these are serious tragedies that we've seen in our society and I think the American people want to understand more of what the facts were," Boehner said. "There are a lot of unanswered questions that the Americans have and, frankly, I have."
Boehner was unclear on whether Congress had a role to play in the matter or whether the cases should be left to the Justice Department, which has announced federal civil rights investigations into both deaths. The speaker did indicate he would be open to congressional hearings, although he declined to "rule that in or out."
"I do think that the American people deserve more answers about what really happened here and was our system of justice handled properly," Boehner said.
Both grand jury decisions touched off a wave of protests across the country and placed a renewed spotlight on law enforcement and racial profiling. Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday he expects to release new guidelines to curb racial profiling by federal law enforcement.
President Barack Obama announced a national task force following the shooting death of Brown and said Wednesday he looks forward to its recommendations on how to move forward. Although Obama did not get into the specifics of either grand jury's decision, he called for strengthening trust and accountability between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
"It is incumbent upon all of us as Americans, regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this is an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a native American problem," Obama said. "This is an American problem -- when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that's a problem, and it's my job as president to help solve it."