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Obama calls Baltimore rioters "criminals," but calls for "soul-searching" on larger issues

Obama at Tuesday's press conference.
Obama at Tuesday's press conference.
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.
  1. In a press conference at the White House today, President Obama condemned rioters in Baltimore, but called for more attention to the systemic problems that plague low-income communities.
  2. Obama stressed that the Department of Justice had opened an investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who was rushed to the hospital with a fatal spinal cord injury while under Baltimore police custody, and said he hopes answers are found. The president also called for the reform of local police practices.
  3. On the violence, Obama stressed that the rioters were only a "handful" of the overall protesters, but said: "When individuals get crowbars and open doors to loot, they're not protesting. They're not making a statement. They're stealing." He called rioters "criminals and thugs who tore up the place."
  4. Regarding larger, systemic issues affecting impoverished communities, the president said that a nationwide mobilization to solve the problem would be necessary for reform. "Everyone needs to feel that those kids are our kids, and we think they're important, and they shouldn't be living in poverty or violence," he said.

A call for broader political reform

Obama condemned the rioters in strong term, and argued not only that they should be "treated as criminals," but that their actions were counterproductive. "They're destroying and undermining opportunities and businesses in their own communities," he said. He further argued that the violence yesterday distracted from "multiple days of peaceful protests that were focused on entirely legitimate concerns."

On larger issues, though, Obama said that many local police forces needed to be reformed: "I think it's going to be important for organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions" to "acknowledge that this is not good for police." Just like there are corrupt politicians and businessmen, he said, "there are some police who aren't doing the right thing," and that thoughtful police leaders shouldn't "close ranks" but instead should work on constructive proposals to improve their practices.

Obama also went beyond just talking about policing, and said "we as a country have to do some soul-searching" on issues at play in "impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity." He pointed to drugs, a lack of fathers, and a lack of economic investment. "If we're serious about solving the problem," he said, farther-reaching reforms on education and criminal justice should be enacted.

"If we think we're just going send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there," Obama continued, "then we're not going to solve this problem." It would require, he said, "everybody saying, 'This is important; this is significant.' And we don't just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns. And we don't just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We're paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids, and we think they're important and they shouldn't be living in poverty and violence."

"That kind of political mobilization," he concluded, "we haven't seen in quite some time."

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