Obama on fatal police shootings in St. Paul and Baton Rouge: 'We've got a serious problem'

Alton Sterling protest(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)People march outside the Triple S convenience store in Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday, July 6, 2016.

President Barack Obama released a statement on Thursday calling for reflection on how the country can “do better” in the wake of two fatal police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota that have renewed the debate over racial bias in law enforcement.

“All Americans should be deeply troubled by the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota,” the statement read. “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.’

The statement continued:

“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. It is to say that, as a nation, we can and must do better to institute the best practices that reduce the appearance or reality of racial bias in law enforcement.”

Obama went on to describe the 21st Century Policing task force he set up in 2014 to address the epidemic of fatal police shootings. The task force “convened police officers, community leaders, and activists” and challenged them to come up with “detailed recommendations on how to improve community policing.”

Alton Sterling shootingScreenshot via The AdvocateAlton Sterling is seen pinned to the ground by police before he is shot and killed.

“So even as officials continue to look into this week’s tragic shootings, we also need communities to address the underlying fissures that lead to these incidents, and to implement those ideas that can make a difference,” the statement read. “That’s how we’ll keep our communities safe. And that’s how we can start restoring confidence that all people in this great nation are equal before the law.”

Two black men were fatally shot this week by police in separate incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota, sparking outrage and protests across the country.

Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father, was fatally shot during a confrontation with two white officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday. Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man whose girlfriend said was pulled over by a Minnesota police officer for a broken tail light, was shot and killed by the officer late Wednesday night.

Both shootings were caught on cell phone cameras.

The Justice Department opened a federal civil rights investigation into Sterling’s death on Wednesday, and says it is looking into opening a formal investigation into Castile’s death.

Philando CastileScreenshot via WCCOPhilando Castile was fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer on Wednesday night.

The earliest details emerging from both shootings have led to questions about its implications for a central belief people have about the US policing system, as well as an assertion frequently posited in the wake of police shootings to justify the officers’ actions: If you comply with the police, you won’t be harmed.

In Castile’s case, his girlfriend claims he informed the officer that he had a gun on him — and a licence to carry it — before he was shot. Sterling, two days earlier, was pinned to the ground and unable to move when an officer shot him point-blank in the chest, video shows.

“All Americans should recognise the anger, frustration, and grief that so many Americans are feeling — feelings that are being expressed in peaceful protests and vigils,” Obama’s statement continued.

“Michelle and I share those feelings. Rather than fall into a predictable pattern of division and political posturing, let’s reflect on what we can do better. Let’s come together as a nation, and keep faith with one another, in order to ensure a future where all of our children know that their lives matter.”

Read the full statement here >>

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