ABC News(EDGARTOWN, Mass.) — Five days after the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old fatally shot by a local police officer, President Obama joined state and national leaders in calling for changes in how police are dealing with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, amid continued street clashes.
“I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson,” Obama said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “There is never excuse for violence against the police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. …There is also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail.”
Obama’s comments came as the FBI confirmed to ABC News that it issued a warning to police officers that a Black Panther leader was trying to incite violence against law enforcement in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis.
Clashes between protesters and police continued Wednesday night, with reports of Molotov cocktails, tear gas and rubber bullets being used.
On Thursday, senior leaders began to call for what Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon dubbed, “a different tone.” Both Nixon and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said the police need to change how they handle the protests.
Nixon spoke to a group in a church hinting that a larger announcement will come later Thursday about “operational shifts.”
“We also need to allow folks who want to express their energy in an appropriate way that absolute right to do that because we will not get the healing that we all need if the only response from the public is, ‘Y’all just be quiet,’” Nixon said. “There is a certain level of emotion that needs to be expressed in order for us to reach a higher plane.”
As Obama spoke Thursday, New Black Panther members held a march in the St. Louis suburb, and other protests appeared likely.
The FBI previously issued a warning about the presence in the area of Chawn Kweli, who it identified as the chief of staff of the New Black Panther Party, Cheryl Mimura, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis FBI field office, told ABC News. The FBI alert was not publicly released but was circulated among law enforcement groups as an officer safety warning.
Obama on Thursday also spoke out against the arrests of two reporters by St. Louis police Wednesday night while working in a local McDonald’s.
“Police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs,” the president said.
Obama first addressed the issue on Tuesday when he released a statement saying that the Department of Justice was investigating Brown’s death alongside local officials.
“I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” the president said Tuesday as he took time off from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard.
“We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve,” he continued.
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