President Obama addressed the recent police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile with an optimistic yet somber message to America: "We are better than this."
Speaking from Warsaw, Poland on Friday morning local time, the president began his speech by expressing condolences for the families of Castile and Sterling, both of whom were shot dead by police within 24 hours of each other.
"We have seen tragedies like this too many times," Obama said, reiterating sentiments that he also shared on his Facebook page
earlier in the day.
Though he couldn't comment on the "specific facts" of each case, Obama stated that he has "complete confidence" in the U.S. Justice Department’s ability to conduct a "thorough and fair inquiry" into Sterling’s death. The 37-year-old father of five, who sold CDs and DVDs to help make ends meet, was killed by a Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officer outside a convenience store on Tuesday, as witnesses recorded nearby. Local authorities have since turned the investigation over to the DOJ.
"What I can say is that all of us as Americans should be troubled by these shootings," Obama continued. "Because these are not isolated incidents. They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system."
The President backed up his statements with statistical proof of racial bias, such as African-Americans and Latinos being "30 percent more likely" than whites to get pulled over and searched by cops.
"If you add it all up, the African-American and Hispanic population, who make up more than 30 percent of the general population, make up more than half of the incarcerated populations," he pointed out, while making sure not to negatively stereotype all police officers.
"We have extraordinary appreciation and respect for the vast majority of police officers who put their lives on the line every day. They have a right to go home to their families just like everybody else on the job, and there are gonna be circumstances in which they've gotta make split-second decisions, we understand that," said Obama. "But when we see data that indicates disparities in how African-Americans and Latinos may be treated, in various jurisdictions around the country, it's incumbent on all of us to say we can do better than this. We are better than this."
Obama added that there is both "subconscious and unconscious" bias within law enforcement that needs to be "rooted out."
"That's not an attack on law enforcement that is reflective of the values of the vast majority," he said. "When people say 'black lives matter,' that doesn't mean 'blue lives' don't matter. All lives matter. Right now, the big concern is the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents. This isn't a matter of us comparing the value of lives, this is recognizing that there is a particular burden that it being placed on a group of our fellow citizens and we should care about that. We can't dismiss it."
Sterling's shooting went viral within hours, eliciting responses from Drake, Beyonce, Jesse Williams, Jenna Dewan Tatum, Justin Timberlake, Hilary Clinton and more. Video of Castille bleeding in the driver's seat of his car after he was shot by a Minnesota police officer quickly circulated after his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, recorded the fatal encounter on Facebook Live on Wednesday.
Castile, who admitted to police that he was carrying a permitted concealed weapon, was originally pulled over for a broken taillight. According to his girlfriend, he was attempting to comply with the officer's request that he show his license and vehicle registration.
The video of Castile's last living moments, picks up right after he was shot. He can be seen slumped in the driver's seat with blood soaking his clothes as Reynolds' 4-year-old daughter watches from the backseat.
Castille, a cafeteria worker at a school in St. Paul for over a decade, was later pronounced dead at a local hospital, while Reynolds says Minnesota police detained her for hours. "They treated me like a prisoner,"she told Salon
after being released. "They treated me like I did this to me, and I didn’t, they did this to us."