President Barack Obama on Thursday called for "a greater sense of urgency" in addressing racial disparity in policing following the controversial fatal police shootings of two black men in two days.
"All of us as Americans should be troubled by these shootings," Obama said in Warsaw, Poland Thursday evening eastern time. "Because these are not isolated incidents — they’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system."
Obama's comments echoed a statement he made earlier Thursday following the fatal police shootings Alton Sterling in Louisiana Tuesday and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Both incidents were captured on video and evoked outrage from some in the public.
Obama pointed to "a wide range of studies" he said show that African-Americans are 30 percent more likely to be stopped than whites, and after being pulled over blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched.
Last year blacks were shot by police at a rate of more than twice that of whites, Obama said.
"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," Obama said. "And that should trouble all of us."
"This is not just a black issue, it’s not just a Hispanic issue — this is an American issue that we should all care about," Obama said. "All fair minded people should be concerned."
Obama urged more communities to adopt policing recommendations made by a task force of civil and community rights activists and law enforcement officials last year. "Change has been too slow, and we have to have a greater sense of urgency about this," Obama said.
Obama stressed that law enforcement officers have a dangerous job, and the vast majority are doing a dangerous job well and without respect to race.
"To all of law enforcement, I want to be very clear: We know you have a tough job. We mourn those in uniform who are protecting us, who lose their lives," Obama said.
Obama said improving relationships between police departments and the communities they serve reduces crime and helps protect officers’ lives.
"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 data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents," Obama 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," Obama said. "We can’t dismiss it."
Obama said, "I actually genuinely truly believe that the vast majority of American people see this as a problem that we should all care about." He urged the nation not to allow the debate about policing and race to devolve into a "political scrum."
"And I would just ask those who question the sincerity or the legitimacy of protests and vigils and expressions of outrage, who somehow label those expressions of outrage as quote unquote political correctness, I’d just ask folks to step back and think: What if this happened to somebody in your family?" Obama said. "How would you feel?"
"To be concerned about these issues is not political correctness," Obama said. "It’s just being American, and wanting to live up to our best and highest ideals."
"And it’s to recognize the reality that we've got some tough history and we haven’t gotten through all of that history yet," the president said. "And we don’t expect that in my lifetime, maybe not in my children's lifetime, that all the vestiges of that past will have been cured, will have been solved. But we can do better."
"People of goodwill can do better. And doing better involves not just addressing potential bias in the criminal justice system, it's recognizing that too often we’re asking police to man the barricades in communities that have been forgotten by all of us for way too long — in terms of substandard schools, and inadequate jobs, and a lack of opportunity."
"We've got to tackle those things. We can do better," Obama said. "And I believe we will do better."