MADRID (TheBlaze/AP) — President Barack Obama called Sunday for greater tolerance, respect and understanding from police officers toward the people they take an oath to protect as well as from individuals who think the police are too heavy handed and intolerant, particularly toward people of color.
"I'd like all sides to listen to each other," Obama said as he answered a reporter's question after meeting with Spain's acting prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, during his shortened first visit to Spain as president.
It was the fourth straight day that Obama has commented on a series of distressing events back home: the fatal shootings by police of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and a sniper attack that killed five police officers and wounded seven in Dallas.
The president alluded to the controversial Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality that have occurred across the country, defending the movement as crucial to the preservation of free speech.
One of the great things about America is that individual citizens and groups of citizens can petition their government, can protest, can speak truth to power. And that is sometimes messy and controversial. But because of that ability to protest and engage in free speech, America over time has gotten better. We've all benefitted from that.
He mentioned other "contentious" movements that occurred throughout the nation's history, comparing them to the recent protests:
The abolition movement was contentious. The effort for women to get the right to vote was contentious and messy. There were times when activists might have engaged in rhetoric that was overheated, and occasionally counterproductive, but the point was to raise issues so that we as a society could grapple with them. The same was true with the Civil Rights movement and the Union movement and the environmental movement and the anti-war movement during Vietnam. And I think what you’re seeing now is part of that long standing tradition.
Obama noted, however, that violence against police by anyone concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system does "a disservice to the cause."
He repeated that the vast majority of U.S. police officers are doing a good job, but said rhetoric that fails to recognize that will do little to rally allies to support efforts to change a system that is broadly recognized as being biased against minorities.
"Maintaining a truthful and serious and respectful tone is going to help mobilize American society to bring about real change," Obama said.
The president also called for cooperation on behalf of law enforcement.
"I would hope that police organizations are also respectful of the frustrations that people in these communities feel and not just dismiss these protests and these complaints as political correctness," he said.
"It is in the interest of police officers that their communities trust them," Obama said.