Speaking to police, Obama defends ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement

President Obama told law enforcement officials Thursday that the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted a point too long ignored: “There is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that is not happening in other communities, and that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.”

“The African-American community is not just making this up. It’s not something that’s just being politicized. It’s real,” Obama said. “We as a society, particularly given our history. have to take this seriously.”

Black Lives Matter, a social media-driven movement borne of a series of police shootings of African-American men and youths, has provoked a backlash from some police officers and others who have responded with a refrain of “All Lives Matter.”

But Obama called that discussion a “trap.” “I think everybody understands all lives matter. Everybody wants strong, effective law enforcement. Everybody wants their kids to be safe when they’re walking to school. Nobody wants to see police officers who are doing their job, fairly, hurt. Everybody understands it’s a dangerous job,” he said

Obama’s remarks came at the end of a White House panel moderated by Bill Keller, the former New York Times editor now overseeing a criminal justice news organization called The Marshall Project. With him on the panel were Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and U.S. Attorney John Walsh of Colorado for an event attended by other police chiefs and Justice Department officials.

But the president also said that the discussion of criminal justice needs to be broader than police and prosecutors.

“We can’t put the entire onus of the problem on law enforcement,” he said. “I think there’s been a healthy debate about police-community relations, and some of the episodes we’ve seen across the country. But we as a society, if we’re not investing in opportunities for poorer kids, and then we expect police and and prosecutors to keep them out of sight and out of mind, that’s a failed strategy.”

Obama is in the midst of a national tour to push for an overhaul to the criminal justice system. He spoke about prescription painkillers and heroin abuse Wednesday in Charleston, W.Va., and will speak to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Chicago next week.

Gregory Korte