President Obama laid out stark statistics on the systemic racial inequities of the criminal justice system late Thursday, shortly after arriving in Poland for a NATO conference.
Speaking from Warsaw just after midnight local time, he addressed police violence and race in the wake of two high-profile shootings of African-American men by law enforcement officers.
Alton Sterling was shot by police in Baton Rouge, La., on Tuesday; video showed him lying on the ground at the time he was shot. Philando Castile was shot by an officer in suburban St. Paul, Minn., on Wednesday; his girlfriend, live streaming video immediately after the shooting, said Castile had been reaching for his wallet, because police requested his ID, when he was shot.
The president said he could not comment on the specific facts of the two shootings because both are under investigation. But he did speak directly about failings in the administration of justice when it comes to race.
“These are not isolated incidents,” Obama said. “They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”
He laid out some statistics:
“According to various studies — not just one but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years — African-Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over.
After being pulled over African-Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched.
Last year African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.
African-Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites.
African-American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.
So that if you add it all up, the African-American and Hispanic population, who make up only 30 percent of the general population, make up more than half of the incarcerated population.
“Now these are facts. And when incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin they are not being treated the same.
“And that hurts.
“And that should trouble all of us.”
“This is not just a black issue. It’s not just a Hispanic issue,” Obama said. “This is an American issue that we should all care about, all fair-minded people should be concerned.”
The president praised the “vast majority” of police officers for doing “a dangerous job” well, and said there’s no contradiction between supporting police officers and calling out systemic biases across the criminal justice system.
“When people say ‘black lives matter,’ that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter, it just means all lives matter — but right now the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents,” the president said.
“This isn’t a matter of us comparing the value of lives. This is recognizing that there is a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens. And we should care about that. And we can’t dismiss it.
“We can’t dismiss it,” he repeated.