WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder are “not going to let up” in the effort to solve the problem of racial tensions that exists between law enforcement officers and minorities in communities nationwide. Obama’s remarks came soon after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in the July chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man.
“It is incumbent upon all of us as Americans regardless of race, region, faith — that we recognize this is an American problem and not just a black problem or a brown problem or a native American problem — this is an American problem when anybody in this country is not being treated equally under the law that’s a problem and it’s my job as president to help solve it,” Obama said at the sixth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference.
Obama said he had just spoken to Attorney General Eric Holder and “we are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust and a strengthening of accountability that exists between our communities and law enforcement.”
The Justice Department is investigating the circumstances surrounding Garner’s death and whether civil rights were violated, law enforcement sources tell CNN. The investigation has been quietly proceeding for several months.
Holder formally announced the investigation during an event at the Justice Department Wednesday evening.
“This afternoon, I spoke with the widow of Eric Garner to inform her and her family of our decision to investigate potential federal civil rights violations,” Holder said. “I’ve also been in touch with President Obama, as well as Mayor de Blasio regarding our decision. Prosecutors will conduct an independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation. In addition to performing our own investigative work, the department will conduct a complete review of the material gathered during the local investigation.”
Obama also said law enforcement must improve training and become more accountable in order to strengthen relations within local communities.
“We are going to take specific steps to improve the training and the work with state and local government when it comes to policing in communities of color,” Obama said. “We are going to be scrupulous in investigating cases where we are concerned about the partiality and accountability that’s taking place.”
The President also said that unlike the recent tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, video evidence of the police’s confrontation with Garner exists.
The New York delegation also spoke out today about taking action in light of the non-guilty verdict, with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer calling for the Justice Department to launch a federal investigation into Eric Garner’s death “as soon as possible.”
New York Rep. Charlie Rangel also said at a press conference that he hopes the Justice Department will “take this cancer and cut it out once and for all.”
Evan Perez contributed to this report UPDATE: This story was updated to include additional information
By Sara Fischer