President Obama made an impassioned call Tuesday for Americans to do “some soul searching” in the wake of this week’s rioting in Baltimore, arguing the U.S. has faced “a slow-rolling crisis” over race and economic opportunity in urban areas.
Speaking during a Rose Garden press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the president gave a seven-point answer in response to a question of what he and his government should do to response to ongoing tensions between police officers and communities of color.
Obama sharply condemned the rioters for damaging private property and taking items from local stores: “They’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They’re stealing.”
[READ: Live updates: Riots in Baltimore]
But he also directed his criticism toward Americans–including the news media and some politicians–for failing to address the chronic problems of men, women and children who live in poverty and find their opportunities limited because of poor schools or long stints in prison.
“This has been a slow-rolling crisis,” he said. “This is not new… We, as a country, have to do some soul searching.”
Obama emphasized he was under no illusions that the policy measures he hoped would make a difference in these people’s lives–including expanded early-childhood education and criminal justice reform–would make it into law easily. He noted that he favors those kinds of social justice measures, “But that kind of political mobilization, I don’t think we’ve seen for some time.”
“But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could,” he said. It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant,and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped.”
“It’s easy to ignore those problems,” Obama added.
The president’s extensive comments marked a sharp departure from Monday, when White House spokesman Josh Earnest called tensions between police and communities around the country “fundamentally a local issue” and said that “there does need to be a commitment from local elected leaders and local law enforcement leaders to confront this challenge and to demonstrate some determination about trying to build bridges with the citizens that they’re sworn to protect.”