As Baltimore cleans up the actions of looters and rioters who disrupted days of largely peaceful protests, President Barack Obama had strong words for the people who acted violently yesterday, following Freddie Gray’s funeral.
“It is not a protest. It is not a statement,” Obama said. “It’s a handful of people taking advantage of the situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals.”
Obama said that the protests over Gray’s death provided an opportunity. “I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching. I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching,” he said. “But I think we as a country have to do some soul searching. This is not new.” He added that there was “no excuse” for riots and violence.
Obama also pointed to institutional causes of tension between communities and police. Specifically, he mentioned a criminal justice system that is a “pipeline from schools to prisons” and a poor education system.
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“We’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets, and everybody will feign concern until it goes away, and then we go about our business as usual.”
Though 235 people were arrested for rioting yesterday, including 34 minors, this week has been marked by thousands of peaceful people marching in Baltimore in protest of police brutality and racism following the death of 25-year-old Gray, whose spine was nearly severed after he was taken into police custody.
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