Obama: Police shootings are 'symptomatic' of racial disparities

President Obama.
(Image credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

During a speech in Warsaw ahead of the NATO summit, President Obama said all Americans should be "troubled" by the recent shooting deaths of black men by police, which are "not isolated incidents, they're symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system."

The president shared stark statistics from several studies that he said "put in context why the emotions are so raw around these issues." African-Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over, and after being pulled over, three times more likely to be searched. In 2015, African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites. When everything is added up, African-Americans and Hispanics make up only 30 percent of the general population, but comprise more than half of the incarcerated population. "When incidents like this occur, there's a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin they are not being treated the same, and that hurts," he said. "That should trouble all of us. This is not just a black issue, it's not just a Hispanic issue, it's an American issue that we should all care about. All fair-minded people should be concerned."

Obama said he has an "extraordinary appreciation and respect for the vast majority of police officers who put their lives on the line every single day," and is heartened by task forces comprised of civil rights activists, community leaders, and law enforcement officials who are coming up with recommendations and steps to take to ensure that trust is rebuilt. However, it's about more than just addressing potential bias in the criminal justice system. "It's recognizing that too often we're asking police to man the barricades in communities that have been forgotten by all of us for way too long in terms of substandard schools and inadequate jobs and lack of opportunity," he said. "We've got to tackle those things. We can do better. I believe we will do better."

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The president also had a message for those who scoff at protesters. "I genuinely, truly believe that the vast majority of American people see this as a problem that we should all care about, and I would just ask those who question the sincerity or the legitimacy of protests and vigils and expressions of outrage, who somehow label those expressions of outrage as 'political correctness,' ask folks to step back and think what if this happened to somebody in your family?" he said. "How would you feel? To be concerned about these issues is not political correctness; it's just being American and wanting to live up to our best and highest ideals."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for TheWeek.com. Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and EW.com, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.