President Barack Obama said that a grand jury’s decision on Wednesday not to indict a New York City police officer in the death of Staten Island man Eric Garner underlines the need for more efforts to improve the relationships between law enforcement and communities of color.
“My tradition is not to remark on cases where there may still be an investigation,” Obama said while addressing the White House Tribal Conference. But he admitted that this case speaks to “larger issues” such as the feeling within black communities that “law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way.”
Obama said that Attorney General Eric Holder will be delivering more specific comments pertaining to the Garner case, and the Justice Department will conduct a civil rights investigation into the case.
The president touted the task force he convened earlier this week, which he ordered to come up with reforms in the wake of riots and protests in Ferguson, following a grand jury’s decision not indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, on August 9. Wilson has since resigned from the Ferguson Police Department.
“We are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of the accountability between our communities and law enforcement,” said Obama. He also emphatically stated that the U.S. must a be a national where “we are all equal under the law,” a remark that was meant with rapturous applause.
“Regardless of race, region, this is an American problem. It’s not just a black problem, or a brown problem … when anybody in this country isn’t being treated equal under the law that’s a problem and it’s my job as president to help solve it,” the president said.
Obama also acknowledged the risks that police take every day in protecting communities across the country. ”Every man and women in uniform is putting their lives at risk to protect us.”
Garner died after being placed in an apparent chokehold by an NYPD officer on July 17 after he was detained for apparently selling untaxed cigarettes. Garner’s death was caught on tape and quickly went viral, galvanized activists and putting a national spotlight on the issue of police brutality. Garner’s story was overshadowed by the shooting death of Brown, but on Wednesday when a grand jury returned a “no true bill” decision it thrust the late father of six’s story back into the forefront.
In an emotional flourish, Obama added: “I’m not interested in talk, I’m interested in action.”