Obama on Ferguson Police, Protests: 'We All Need to Hold Ourselves to a High Standard'

Obama addressed police use of force, First Amendment rights, and seeking justice for Michael Brown in a Thursday statement.

After a dramatic night of confrontations between police and protesters, politicians are starting to speak up about the escalating conflict in Ferguson, Mo. Today, President Obama took to the podium from Martha's Vineyard to address the situation.

"Today I'd like us all to take a step back and think about how we're going to be moving forward," Obama said after addressing the U.S. military aid operation in Iraq. In his statement, Obama said he has directed the FBI to conduct an independent investigation of Brown's death. He also said that Attorney General Eric Holder will work with local officials to find out what happened.

"When something like this happens, the local authorities, including the police, have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death and how they are protecting people in their communities," Obama said.

Over the weekend, a so-far-unnamed police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Eyewitness and police reports differ over whether Brown was posing a threat to officers, which spurred a week of protests in the area. The protests have been met by a police force wielding military-style equipment, including tear gas and rubber bullets, which have been fired into unarmed crowds. Wednesday night, at least two reporters were arrested covering the protests. Obama addressed this directly:

There's also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights. And here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who were just trying to do their job.

Meanwhile, Missouri state officials have been slow to respond to the situation. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon released a statement last night, canceling his scheduled appearance at the Missouri State Fair. On Thursday, Nixon told reporters that while he stressed the importance of public safety in the protests, "we will not get the healing that we all need if the only response from the public is just be quiet." He said his office would announce "operational changes"  later Thursday afternoon.

Obama said in his statement, "We all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of high authority."

This isn't the first time the president has spoken out in the aftermath of a death of a young, black, unarmed man. "When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said, This could've been my son," Obama said last summer, when media attention was focused on the trial of George Zimmerman, Martin's killer.

In that statement—which commenters called Obama's most muscular remarks on race during his presidency—Obama made the case that it sometimes does seem that there are different systems of justice for black and white Americans. He said the racial context could not be denied.

"I think it's important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away," Obama said.

It's a year later, and those feelings haven't gone away.