WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Thursday that the Black Lives Matter movement has “legitimate” concerns, and indicated it was unfair to portray its activists as opposed to law enforcement. At the same time, Obama called on activists to recognize that police officers have a tough job.
Obama said activists are drawing attention to a legitimate concern about whether African-Americans are treated unfairly in specific jurisdictions or are subject to excessive force more frequently. He added that the “overwhelming majority of law enforcement is doing the right thing and wants to do the right thing.”
His comments came at an event at the White House on criminal justice reform that was moderated by The Marshall Project.
"We as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously," Obama said of the fact that African-Americans are treated unfairly by the criminal justice system. "The African-American community is not just making this up, and it's not just something being politicized. It's real, and there's a history there."
Obama also said it was important to recognize that the criminal justice system is a reflection of society.
"We as a society, if we are not investing in opportunity for poor kids, and then we expect just the police and prosecutors to keep them out of sight and out of mind, that's a failed strategy. That's a failure on our part as a whole," Obama said. "If kids in the inner city are not getting treatment and opportunity, that's as much of a problem as if it's happening to our kids, and we've got to think of all our children in that same way."
The president also addressed "All lives matter," the frequent response to the "Black lives matter" refrain, saying that organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement were not suggesting black lives are more important than others, but rather that some things happen in black communities that wouldn’t be tolerated in other communities.
"I think everybody understands all lives matter," Obama said. Everybody wants strong and effective law enforcement, he said, and nobody wants to see police officers hurt who are doing their jobs fairly.