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Obama: Ferguson report exposed racially biased system

March 6, 2015
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President Barack Obama looks to the audience as he participates in a town-hall meeting at Benedict College, Friday, March 6, 2015, in Columbia, S.C., about the importance of community involvement. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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President Barack Obama looks to the audience as he participates in a town-hall meeting at Benedict College, Friday, March 6, 2015, in Columbia, S.C., about the importance of community involvement. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (AP) — The police situation in Ferguson, Missouri, was “oppressive and abusive,” President Barack Obama said Friday, as he prepared to commemorate a half-century since the historic civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama.

In his most expansive comments yet about the Justice Department’s report on racial bias in Ferguson, Obama said it was striking that investigators merely had to look at email sent by police officials to find evidence of bias. He said the City of Ferguson now must make a decision about how to move forward.

“Are they going to enter into some sort of agreement with the Justice Department to fix what is clearly a broken and racially biased system?” Obama said.

Ferguson city leaders are to meet with Justice Department officials in about two weeks to put forth an improvement plan. Although Obama said he didn’t think what happened in Ferguson was typical of the rest of the country, he added that it wasn’t an isolated incident, either.

He called for communities to work together to address tensions between police and communities without succumbing to cynical attitudes that say “this is never going to change, because everybody’s racist.”

“That’s not a good solution,” Obama said. “That’s not what the folks in Selma did.”

Obama’s comments at South Carolina’s Benedict College came the day before he travels to Alabama for this weekend’s 50th anniversary of the civil rights marches and “Bloody Sunday.” Obama said the commemoration is as much about stirring young people to change as about honoring yesterday’s legends, calling the push for “a fair and more just criminal justice system” part of the modern struggle.

Obama is leading Saturday’s tribute in Selma, where 50 years ago police beat scores of people who were marching from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital, to protest their lack of voting rights. The violent images broadcast on national television helped lead to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Selma is not just about commemorating the past, it’s about honoring the legends who helped change this country through your actions today, in the here and now,” Obama said at a town hall meeting. “Selma is now.”

Obama told students at the college that Selma was possible because of the young people who decided to act. He noted that one of the most famous leaders of the Selma march — now Georgia Rep. John Lewis — was just 23 years old at the time.

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Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nedrapickler

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