Obama calls for 'soul searching' in wake of Baltimore riot

Obama calls for 'soul searching' in wake of Baltimore riot

© ERIC THAYER / Reuters

Obama said it was important for police departments to recognize that some of them have a problem in how they deal with criminal suspects of color.

"There are some police who aren't doing the right thing," he said. Rather than close ranks, he said, some police chiefs have recognized "they've got to get their arms" around the problem.

Obama, at a joint news conference with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, made his first public statement about a Maryland black man, Freddie Gray, who died April 19 of a broken spine after being arrested by Baltimore police.

Gray's funeral on Monday prompted wave after wave of rioting in Baltimore that included looting and the burning of a CVS drug store. The violence prompted Obama to delve yet again into the issue of race.

“We can’t just leave this to the police. I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching. I think there’s some communities that have to do some soul searching. But I think we as a country have to do some soul searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades," he said.

Obama had a six-point response to a pointed question about Baltimore, starting with extending sympathy to Gray's family, as well as police officers injured in Monday's violence. He then renounced the rioting as counterproductive and said its perpetrators were criminals and thugs.

He said the Baltimore violence distracted from the preceding days of peaceful and constructive protest by "demonstrators who did it the right way."

(Writing by Steve Holland and Bill Trott; Editing by Susan Heavey and David Gregorio)