Ed. Note: This post was updated on December 4, 2014.
Yesterday, a grand jury in Staten Island decided not to bring criminal charges against police officers involved in the tragic death of Eric Garner.
Speaking at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference yesterday evening, President Obama delivered the following statement:
"Some of you may have heard there was a decision that came out today by a grand jury not to indict police officers who had interacted with an individual with Eric Garner in New York City, all of which was caught on videotape and speaks to the larger issues that we’ve been talking about now for the last week, the last month, the last year, and, sadly, for decades, and that is the concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way.
"And there’s going to be, I’m sure, additional statements by law enforcement. My tradition is not to remark on cases where there may still be an investigation. But I want everybody to understand that this week, in the wake of Ferguson, we initiated a task force whose job it is to come back to me with specific recommendations about how we strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color and minority communities that feel that bias is taking place; that we are going to take specific steps to improve the training and the work with state and local governments when it comes to policing in communities of color; that we are going to be scrupulous in investigating cases where we are concerned about the impartiality and accountability that’s taking place.
"And as I said when I met with folks both from Ferguson and law enforcement and clergy and civil rights activists, I said this is an issue that we’ve been dealing with for too long and it’s time for us to make more progress than we’ve made. And I’m not interested in talk; I’m interested in action. And I am absolutely committed as President of the United States to making sure that we have a country in which everybody believes in the core principle that we are equal under the law.
"So I just got off the phone with my Attorney General, Eric Holder. He will have more specific comments about the case in New York. But I want everybody to know here, as well as everybody who may be viewing my remarks here today, we are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of the accountability that exists between our communities and our law enforcement.
"And I say that as somebody who believes that law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job; that every man or woman in uniform are putting their lives at risk to protect us; that they have the right to come home, just like we do from our jobs; that there’s real crime out there that they’ve got to tackle day in and day out -- but that they’re only going to be able to do their job effectively if everybody has confidence in the system.
"And right now, unfortunately, we are seeing too many instances where people just do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly. And in some cases, those may be misperceptions; but in some cases, that’s a reality. And it is incumbent upon all of us, as Americans, regardless of race, region, faith, that we recognize this is an American problem, and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a Native American problem.
"This is an American problem. When anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law, that’s a problem. And it’s my job as President to help solve it."
Later that evening, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice will proceed with a federal civil rights investigation into Mr. Garner's death. The Attorney General made the following statement:
"We have all seen the video of Mr. Garner’s arrest. His death, of course, was a tragedy. All lives must be valued. Mr. Garner’s death is one of several recent incidents across the country that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect. This is not a New York issue or a Ferguson issue alone. Those who have protested peacefully across our great nation following the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson have made that clear.
"As the brother of a retired police officer, I know in a personal way about the bravery of the men and women in uniform who put their lives at risk every day to protect public safety. The vast majority of our law enforcement officers perform their duties honorably and are committed to respecting their fellow citizens civil rights as they carry out their very challenging work.
"It is for their sake as well that we must seek to heal the breakdown in trust we have seen. Earlier this week, I traveled to Atlanta to begin a series of interactions to begin this process - and officials around the country at every level of the Department of Justice will continue this vital ongoing work. As the Justice Department’s independent investigations into the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner proceed, I will continue these conversations as we seek to restore trust, to rebuild understanding and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
"I know that substantial numbers of people in New York and across the country will be disappointed and frustrated by the outcome of the state grand jury proceeding today. I know many will plan to voice their disappointment publicly through protests. This is the right of all Americans. But as I have said before, throughout our history, the most successful movements have been those that adhered to the principles of nonviolence. I urge all those inclined to demonstrate tonight and in the days ahead to remain peaceful in their demonstrations, and not to engage in activities that deflect our attention from the very serious matters our nation must confront."