WASHINGTON (AP) — Defending the Black Lives Matter movement, President Barack Obama said Thursday that the group is giving voice to a specific problem happening only in African-American communities, and that "we, as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously."
Obama said the group, which sprung up after the deaths of unarmed Black people in Florida, Missouri and elsewhere, quickly came to be viewed as being opposed to police and that its name suggested that other people's lives don't matter. Opponents of the group countered with the phrase "all lives matter."
At the conclusion of a White House forum on criminal justice, Obama said he wanted to make a final point about the nexus of race and the criminal justice system.
"I think everybody understands all lives matter. Everybody wants strong effective law enforcement. Everybody wants their kids to be safe when they're walking to school. Nobody wants to see police officers who are doing their job fairly, hurt. Everybody understands it's a dangerous job," he said
"I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' was not because they were suggesting nobody else's lives matter," the president continued. "Rather what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that's happening in the African-American community that's not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we've got to address."
Obama paired his defense of the Black Lives Matter movement with praise for police and other law enforcement officials. Some police groups have been unhappy with the way Obama has responded to the deaths of unarmed Black men and the president lately seems to be making the extra effort to publicly praise police officers for willingly taking on a dangerous assignment.
The president praised police officers while participating in a forum on drug abuse Wednesday in Charleston, West Virginia. Next week, he is scheduled to address a meeting in Chicago of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
At the White House, Obama said there are specific concerns about whether blacks in certain areas are treated unfairly or are more frequently subjected to excessive force by police. But at the same time, he said it's important for people to back up their concerns with data, not just anecdotes and "to understand the overwhelming majority of law enforcement's doing the right thing and wants to do the right thing, to recognize that police officers have a really tough job and we're sending them into really tough neighborhoods that sometimes are really dangerous and they've got to make split-second decisions."
He said people shouldn't be "too sanctimonious" about situations that can sometimes be ambiguous.
"But having said all that, we as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously," Obama said. "And one of the ways of avoiding the politics of this and losing the moment is everybody just stepping back for a second and understanding that the African-American community is not just making this up.
"It's not just something being politicized. It's real and there's a history behind it and we have to take it seriously," he said.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)