In a surreal moment of cable television, split screens on major news networks broadcast President Obama pushing for calm after Ferguson’s grand-jury decision even as protesters smashed cop cars and businesses and police responded with tear gas and armored vehicles.
The president made an unscheduled speech late Monday night to address the grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, in which he urged everyone to respect the rule of law. “There are Americans who agree with [the decision,]” he said, “and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed — even angry. That’s an understandable reaction.”
President Obama called on all protesters to respect the wishes of the Brown family and protest peacefully. He spoke of the “handful of people who may use the decision as an excuse for violence” and called on everyone to recognize that “this is not an issue for Ferguson; this is an issue for America.”
“We have made enormous progress in race relations over the past several decades,” the president said, calling it willfully ignorant to deny that truth. “But there are still problems, and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up. Separating that from this decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in a discriminatory fashion.”
But progress, Obama warned, won’t come by “throwing bottles or smashing car windows. It certainly won’t be done by hurting anybody.”
As Obama spoke, protesters fanned out on into the communities of Clayton and Ferguson, Mo. — attacking cop cars, setting structures on fire and allegedly attacking cops with bricks and bottles. Police in riot gear responded by firing tear gas into the crowds, sending clouds swirling into the sky as President Obama spoke on the other side of the screen.
Armored police vehicles moved forward and gas canisters arced across intersections as a reporter asked President Obama if he was planning on visit Ferguson soon. “Well, let’s take a look and see how things are going,” the president replied.