- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2015

President Obama said communities in Baltimore having problems now are “no different” than the ones he worked on in Chicago as a community organizer, calling for a long-term conversation on criminal justice reform while acknowledging people tend to move on once an immediate crisis is seemingly over.

“This is something that’s obviously important to me — the communities in Baltimore that are having these problems now are no different than the communities in Chicago where I first started working when I moved there as a community organizer,” Mr. Obama said in a radio interview that aired Wednesday on “The Steve Harvey Morning Show.” “I’ve seen this movie too many times before.”

An overnight curfew in Baltimore Tuesday appeared to have quelled some of the rioting and violence that took place Monday after the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody earlier this month.

Mr. Obama didn’t rule out eventually traveling to Baltimore, but said that when he travels, he takes “a lot of assets out of where they need to be.”

“Which is why usually when there’s disturbances or natural disasters, I usually try to let law enforcement or emergency responders do their work,” he said. “Once things have cleared up, I think there’s going to be a time where I go back to Baltimore, a city obviously that’s close by and I’m familiar with.”

He said that trying to fix underlying problems in such situations isn’t easy, but that policies he’s talked about could make a difference and also called for building on a task force report issued in the wake of the events last summer in Ferguson, Missouri.

“We can’t just kind of on the one hand say the problem’s with police, but on the other hand the problem[s] are these kids engaging in violence without also taking into account some of our responsibility as a larger society for trying to take seriously the need to rebuild many of these communities,” he said.

“And a lot of the policies I’ve talked about in terms of early childhood education or job training, attracting businesses to these areas or building infrastructure so people have access to where the jobs are — those are all things that could make a difference, but we’ve got to build a political movement around that as well,” he said. “If all we’re doing is focusing on retraining police but not dealing with some of these underlying issues, then these problems [are going to] crop up again.”

He mentioned working with former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on having conversations with Congress about criminal justice reform and sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug offenders, as well as diversion programs so young people are given opportunities to learn how to learn a trade or skill instead of ending up in jail.

“And that is part of the conversation that has to be had,” Mr. Obama said. “But that’s a long-term conversation that’s hard to focus on. People have a tendency, once the fire’s been put out, and the cars aren’t being tipped over, there’s not some immediate crisis, then folks want to go back and focus on whatever reality TV thing is going on.”

“And this requires some sustained focus — we’re not going to change this overnight,” he continued. “But we can make progress. But it requires all of us taking responsibility, not just some.”

He also echoed sentiments from separate remarks he gave Tuesday that it’s not just an isolated incident and that there’s “no excuse” for violence and looting.

He said he — or any other elected official — can’t do it alone.

“The best-intentioned mayor or governor or police commissioner can’t do it alone,” he said. “We’ve all got to work together — that includes parents, includes young people, as well as police and clergy and community leaders, teachers, and business leaders. But we just got to make sure that we don’t brush this aside after the crisis has passed. And that’s always hard to do. But it’s necessary.”

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