Having been silent since the riots broke out in Baltimore this week, President Obama delivered a lengthy response Tuesday to the violence, calling out the “criminals and thugs who tore up the place.”
Asked his thoughts on the unrest during a Rose Garden press conference on trade with the prime minister of Japan, Obama said: “There’s no excuse for the kind of violence we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive. When individuals get crow bars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They’re stealing.”
On Monday, people began rioting in the streets of Baltimore, attacking police officers with rocks and setting fire to local businesses. The violence is in response to the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old died who died of a spinal chord injury after being arrested by city police.
“When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson,” Obama said of the rioters. “And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities that rob jobs and opportunity from people in that area.”
“They need to be treated as criminals,” the president added.
Obama argued the riots have distracted from what he called the “legitimate” protests from the community about the police’s treatment of African-Americans. He also complained that the media is focusing more on the riots than the “peaceful protests.”
“The violence that happened yesterday distracted from the fact that you had seen multiple days of peaceful protests that were focused on entirely legitimate concerns of these communities in Baltimore, led by clergy and community leaders,” he said. “And they were instructive and they were thoughtful.”
Added Obama: “Frankly, they didn’t get that much attention. And one burning building will be looped on television over and over and over again and the thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way I think I have been lost in the discussion.”