MADRID (CBSNewYork/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.
CBS News reported Obama defended the Black Lives Matter movement.
“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,” Obama said. “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 benefited from that.”
He continued, “I don’t think that you can hold well-meaning activists who are doing the right thing and peacefully protesting responsible for everything that is uttered at a protest site. This week people felt hurt and angry and so some of this is just venting, but I think that the overwhelming majority of people who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement — what they really want to see is a better relationship between the police and the community so they can feel that it’s serving them.”
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.
He said violence against police by anyone concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system does “a disservice to the cause.”
“Any violence to police officers is a reprehensible crime and needs to be prosecuted,” Obama said. “But even rhetorically, if we paint police in broad brush without recognizing that the vast majority of police officers are doing a really good job and are trying to protect people and do so fairly and without racial bias, if our rhetoric does not recognize that, then we’re going to lose allies in the reform cause.”
He repeated that the vast majority of U.S. police officers are doing a good job, and rhetoric that portrays them otherwise does little to rally allies to support efforts to change a system broadly recognized as 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 balance from 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.
The president traveled to Spain after attending a NATO summit in Poland, but the shocking series of events at home late last week dominated most of his public appearances. Spain, nevertheless, appeared thrilled to welcome the first U.S. president to visit in more than a decade. Tourists and curiosity seekers lined some streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of him, and local TV aired wall-to-wall coverage of his movements.
Obama was supposed to spend two days in Spain, but cut the visit to about a day because of the shootings. The White House said the president will visit Dallas this week.
“We’ve had a difficult week in the United States,” he told King Felipe VI before they met in private at the Royal Palace.
After meeting with acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Obama lauded the long-standing ties between the U.S. and Spain and complimented economic policies put in place under Rajoy’s leadership, saying the changes have begun to “bear fruit.” The economy is a top concern of the Spanish public, with nearly 5 million people out of work and the unemployment rate at about 20 percent.
Spain has been gripped by a political stalemate for months, with Rajoy unable to rally the political support he needs to form a new coalition government following a late-June election. It was the country’s second round of inconclusive balloting in the past year.
Rajoy’s party also won an election in December, but no other major party would help him form a government.
Rajoy thanked Obama for visiting and offered his condolences for the Dallas shooting. He touched on Spain’s improving economic outlook and the political crisis, saying that having a third election in less than a year would be “a joke” that would damage the economy.
Obama also thanked Rajoy for his government’s contributions as a fellow NATO ally, and for hosting U.S. sailors and guided missile destroyers at a naval base on the southern coast. A visit to the base, including an event with troops, was to be Obama’s final stop before the flight to Washington.
Shortly before departing for the base, the White House says he met with leaders from Spain’s main opposition parties.
It’s taken the White House more than seven years to lock in Spain on Obama’s foreign travel schedule. But events beyond his control ended up turning his first and only visit to Spain, the largest European country that had yet to welcome the president, into a rushed one.
Obama originally planned to spend Sunday and Monday in Spain, including a half-day of sightseeing in the south. But he cut it to one day by scrapping the sightseeing and his standard question-and-answer session with young adults.
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