The White House on Thursday called on community leaders to do more to strengthen the bonds of the trust between law enforcement officials and the communities they are sworn to protect in the aftermath of two shooting deaths of black men by police officers.
“What I can say in general is that (President Barack Obama) is deeply disturbed by these reports. He is following the situation closely,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Poland for a NATO summit.
Earnest’s comments following fatal shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota that were partially captured in cell phone videos that quickly went viral.
Earnest said he was limited in what he could say about the shootings due to ongoing investigations but expressed condolences for those killed and said the thoughts and prayers of White House officials were with those grieving in both communities.
President Obama expressed he was “deeply troubled” by the fatal shooting in Facebook post.
“We’ve seen such tragedies far too many times, and our hearts go out to the families and communities who’ve suffered such a painful loss,” President Obama wrote in a Facebook post.
“Although I am constrained in commenting on the particular facts of these cases, I am encouraged that the U.S. Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation in Baton Rouge, and I have full confidence in their professionalism and their ability to conduct a thoughtful, thorough, and fair inquiry.”
“To admit we’ve got a serious problem in no way contradicts our respect and appreciation for the vast majority of police officers who put their lives on the line to protect us every single day,” he continued.
He also cited the 21st Century Task Force the President created in response to similar incidents in recent years and to efforts across the country to implement the committee’s recommendations. The committee calls for promoting diversity in law enforcement agencies, encouraging a culture of transparency within agencies and encouraging officers to more closely engage with members of communities where there is a high law enforcement presence through “positive non-enforcement activities,” among other steps.
“The Department of Justice, in particular, has worked hard to encourage local law enforcement organizations and local political leaders to draw on best practices and implement them in their own communities, and the President believes it is important for community leaders to make that effort a genuine priority,” Earnest said.
“The division that exists between the local law enforcement organizations and many communities that they are sworn to serve and protect is not the kind of situation that we just have to accept. This does not have to be a new normal,” Earnest continued. “This does not have to be a status quo that we tolerate. There is something that can be done. There are steps that can be taken to address this problem and the President is hopeful that community leaders across the country, political leaders across the country, will rededicate themselves to this effort.”
Earnest was speaking after video surfaced of a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, fatally shooting Philando Castile, an African-American man, during a traffic stop.
Castile’s death came a day after Alton Sterling, 37, died after a police shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.