Riots gained media attention last night as local businesses were set on fire, police officers were injured and footage of residents looting stores was shared online. During a joint press conference with Prime Minister Abe of Japan, Obama took his stance against the violence that erupted:
There is no excuse for the kind of violence we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive. When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting, they’re not making a statement; they’re stealing. When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson, and they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities that rob jobs and opportunities from people in that area. So it is entirely appropriate that the mayor of Baltimore, who I spoke to yesterday and the governor, who I spoke to yesterday, work to stop that kind of senseless violence and destruction. That is not a protest. That is not a statement. It’s people – a handful people – taking advantage of a situation for their own purpose, and they should be treated as criminals.
The president also made a point to acknowledge the peaceful protest that took place before last night’s riots. Pointing out that attention has been subtracted from the issue of Gray’s arrest and from the citizens of Baltimore who have concerns, Obama slammed the press’ lack of well-rounded coverage:
The violence that happened yesterday distracted from the fact that you had seen multiple days of peaceful protesters that were focused on entirely legitimate concerns of these communities in Baltimore, led by clergy and community leaders, and they were constructive and they were thoughtful. And frankly, it didn’t get that much attention. One burning building will be looped on television over and over again, and the thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way have been lost in the discussion.
The overwhelming majority of the community in Baltimore handled this appropriately, expressing real concern and outrage over the possibility that our laws were not applied evenly in the case of Mr. Gray, and that accountability needs to exist. And I think we have to give them credit. My understanding is you’ve got some of the same organizers now going back into these communities to try and clean up in the aftermath of a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place. What they were doing – those clergy and community leaders – that is a statemn. That’s the kind of organizing that needs to take place if we’re going to tackle this problem and they deserve credit for it, and we should be lifting them up.
Rounding out his six-point response with a wide-scoped lens, President Obama brought the point back around to a larger issue:
But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant — and that 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’s how I feel. I think there are a lot of good-meaning people around the country that feel that way. But that kind of political mobilization I think we haven’t seen in quite some time. And what I’ve tried to do is to promote those ideas that would make a difference. But I think we all understand that the politics of that are tough because it’s easy to ignore those problems or to treat them just as a law and order issue, as opposed to a broader social issue.