Obama criticizes black deaths by police, but also rioters

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Obama Says Media Should Pay Attention To Peaceful Protests

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Urging Americans to "do some soul-searching," President Barack Obama expressed deep frustration Tuesday over recurring black deaths at the hands of police, rioters responding with senseless violence and a society that will only "feign concern" without addressing the root causes.

"This is not new. It's been going on for decades," Obama said from the White House a day after rioting erupted 40 miles north in Baltimore following the funeral for Freddie Gray, who died of a spinal cord injury after being arrested.

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Obama criticizes black deaths by police, but also rioters
Firefighters battle a blaze, Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Police stand guard Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A police officer walks by a blaze, Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Firefighters battle a blaze, Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Firefighters battle a blaze, Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
A demonstrator raises his fist as police stand in formation as a store burns, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A man throws a brick at police Monday, April 27, 2015, following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Police move a protester back, Monday, April 27, 2015, following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Firefighters prepare to put out a fire at a store, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A firefighter pulls hoses toward a burning store, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A man carries items from a store as police vehicles burn, Monday, April 27, 2015, after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A police vehicle burns, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A man carries items from a store as police vehicles burn, Monday, April 27, 2015, after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A man walks past a burning police vehicle, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(photo credit: Instagram/FreshChris_1)
#prayforbaltimore
#baltimore is a legit war zone. This is beyond #FreddieGray #frontlines #war @citypaper
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: A man walks by broken glass at a bus stop near Mondawmin Mall, April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The funeral service for Freddie Gray, who died last week while in Baltimore Police custody, was held on Monday morning. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Baltimore police officers clash with protesters in the streets near Mondawmin Mall April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Violent street clashes erupted in Baltimore on Monday after friends and family gathered for the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose death in custody triggered a fresh wave of protests over US police tactics. Police said at least seven officers were injured -- one of them was unresponsive -- as youths hurled bricks and bottles and destroyed at least one police vehicle in the vicinity of the shopping mall not far from the church where the funeral took place. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: Baltimore Police officers confront protestors on Reisterstown Road near Mondawmin Mall, April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The funeral service for Freddie Gray, who died last week while in Baltimore Police custody, was held on Monday morning. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Baltimore police officers clash with protesters in the streets near Mondawmin Mall April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Violent street clashes erupted in Baltimore on Monday after friends and family gathered for the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose death in custody triggered a fresh wave of protests over US police tactics. Police said at least seven officers were injured -- one of them was unresponsive -- as youths hurled bricks and bottles and destroyed at least one police vehicle in the vicinity of the shopping mall not far from the church where the funeral took place. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Baltimore police officers form a line in front of protesters in the streets near Mondawmin Mall April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Violent street clashes erupted in Baltimore on Monday after friends and family gathered for the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose death in custody triggered a fresh wave of protests over US police tactics. Police said at least seven officers were injured -- one of them was unresponsive -- as youths hurled bricks and bottles and destroyed at least one police vehicle in the vicinity of the shopping mall not far from the church where the funeral took place. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: People in a home look on as Baltimore Police officers stand in the middle of Reisterstown Road near Mowdamin Mall, April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The funeral service for Freddie Gray, who died last week while in Baltimore Police custody, was held on Monday morning. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: A protestors confronts Baltimore Police officers with his hands up near Mondawmin Mall, April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The funeral service for Freddie Gray, who died last week while in Baltimore Police custody, was held on Monday morning. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Baltimore police officers carry an injured comrade as they clash with protesters in the streets near Mondawmin Mall April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Violent street clashes erupted in Baltimore on Monday after friends and family gathered for the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose death in custody triggered a fresh wave of protests over US police tactics. Police said at least seven officers were injured -- one of them was unresponsive -- as youths hurled bricks and bottles and destroyed at least one police vehicle in the vicinity of the shopping mall not far from the church where the funeral took place. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Police put out a fire caused by a teargas canister April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Violent street clashes erupted in Baltimore on Monday after friends and family gathered for the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose death in custody triggered a fresh wave of protests over US police tactics. Police said at least seven officers were injured -- one of them was unresponsive -- as youths hurled bricks and bottles and destroyed at least one police vehicle in the vicinity of a shopping mall not far from the church where the funeral took place.  (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: Baltimore Police officers arrest a man near Mowdamin Mall, April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The funeral service for Freddie Gray, who died last week while in Baltimore Police custody, was held on Monday morning. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Protests over death of #FreddieGray turn into #BaltimoreRiots http://t.co/QDTGei8Ya4 http://t.co/CX2RlaR75z
Police move down a street in response to demonstrators who were throwing objects, Monday, April 27, 2015, after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Another store broken into, this time a check cashing business. This is out of control. #BaltimoreRiots http://t.co/gx3nLbZK2S
Arrest just now - second we've seen http://t.co/MiFtFEMvqu
#Cnnireport #Baltimore #Maryland it's #Crazy
Baltimore #FreddieGray
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Gray is the latest black man to die at the hands of police, prompting protests and calls for criminal justice reform. Some have criticized America's first black president for not speaking out forcefully enough as he tries to avoid criticism of law enforcement, and he responded by calling the deaths "a slow-rolling crisis."

"We have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African-American, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions. It comes up, it seems like, once a week now," Obama said. He said although such cases aren't unprecedented, there's new awareness as a result of cameras and social media. "We shouldn't pretend that it's new."

Still, Obama showed no sympathy for rioters, saying those who stole from businesses and burned buildings and cars should be treated as criminals. Obama said they distracted from days of peaceful protests focused on legitimate concerns "over the possibility that our laws were not applied evenly in the case of Mr. Gray and that accountability needs to exist."

"There's no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday," Obama said. "It is counterproductive. When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they're not protesting, they're not making a statement, they're stealing."

But he also criticized a society that doesn't do enough to uplift poor minority communities. He said the solution to deep-seeded problems that spur violence include early education, criminal justice reform and job training, while suggesting that kind of a response is out of reach with a Republican Congress. "I'm under no illusion that out of this Congress we're going to get massive investments in urban communities," Obama said.

"It's too easy to ignore those problems or to treat them just as a law-and-order issue as opposed to a broader social issue," Obama said.

The president spoke during a state visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at one point apologizing to his guest for taking nearly 15 minutes of their news conference to discuss it. "I felt pretty strongly about it," he said.

Obama said America should not just pay attention to these communities "when a CVS burns" or when "a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped." He said he can't force police departments across the country to retrain their officers, but he can work with them and help pay for body cameras to improve accountability.

"In those environments, if we think that we're just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there, without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we're not going to solve this problem," he said. "And we'll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets. And everybody will feign concern until it goes away and then we go about our business as usual."

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