WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama on Tuesday said the “criminals and thugs who tore up” the city of Baltimore on Monday night paralyzed the city and overwhelmed local officials.
The sustained outbreak of violence followed the funeral for Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died after he was arrested more than two weeks ago. Cars were set on fire; stores were destroyed; and six officers were seriously injured. It was the first time Obama has commented on the turmoil in Baltimore that has followed Gray’s death.
“There’s no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive,” Obama said at a press conference from the White House. “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 robs jobs and opportunity from people in that area.”
Obama said he spoke with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was sworn in Monday, said the Justice Department is investigating Gray’s death.
Obama also said that “there are some police who aren’t doing the right thing,” pointing to tensions with law enforcement that have boiled in African-American communities for decades and now seem to burst into public view “it seems like once a week now.”
“This is a slow-rolling crisis,” Obama said. “This has been going on for a long time. This is not new and we shouldn’t pretend it’s new.”
He said addressing those issues in communities where manufacturing jobs have fallen away and the illicit drug trade has become a key source of income requires major policy shifts, including more funding for education, criminal justice reforms to help nonviolent offenders gain employment and changes in police tactics, such as attaching small video cameras to each officer.
He said achieving those changes would require “that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns” — a reference to one of the most prominent scenes from Baltimore on Monday night.
“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,” Obama said. “But I think we as a country have to do some soul-searching.”