Civil Liberties  
comments_image Comments

10 Takeaways From Obama's Ferguson Speech: Cops Should Not Be Militarized

The president says he understands the deeper problems. But what can he change?

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Everett Collection


In a White House press conference on Monday, President Obama told police and demonstrators in the ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, to cool their passions and hard-nosed responses. He also said Congress should take a closer look at providing military equipment and training to local police forces which claim they are preparing for terrorists while using the equipment for domestic policing.

The president also said Americans need to understand that unequal treatment by society that perpetuates poverty and fewer economic prospects feeds into anger and rage, but he said those injustices are no excuse for inciting violence or looting. What follows are 10 excerpts from his remarks.

1. Most Protesters Were Peaceful

“It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting; what’s also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not. While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving in to that anger by looting, or carrying guns, and even attacking the police, only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos. It undermines, rather than advancing justice.”

2. Police Must Defend Protesters’ Rights

“Let me also be clear that our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded, especially in moments like these. There’s no excuse for excessive force by police for any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully. Ours is a nation with laws, for the citizens who live under them, and for the citizens who enforce them.

3. Stop Fighting and Start Talking

“Let me call once again to seek some understanding rather than to holler at each other. Let’s seek to heal, rather than to wound each other. As Americans, we’ve got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that’s been laid bare by this moment.”

4. Too Many Young Men Of Color Are Left Behind

“I’ve said this before, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement. In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear. Through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, I’m personally committed to changing both perception and reality…but that requires that we build and not tear down, and that requires that we listen and not just shout.

"That’s how we’re going to move forward together… We’re going to have to hold tight to those values in the days ahead. That’s how we bring about justice. That’s how we bring about peace."

5. Local Police Shouldn’t Be Armed Military Forces

“I think one of the great things about the United States is our ability to maintain a distinction between our military and domestic law enforcement. That helps preserve our civil liberties. That helps ensure that the military is accountable to civilian direction. And that has to be preserved. After 9/11 I think understandably a lot of folks saw local communities that were ill-equipped for a potential catastrophic terrorist attack. I think people in Congress, people of good will, thought we’ve got to make sure that they get proper equipment to deal with threats that historically wouldn’t arise in local communities. And some of that’s been useful…

“Having said that, I think it’s probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what they are purchasing is stuff that they actually need, because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement. And we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions. And I think there will be some bipartisan interest in reexamining some of those programs.”