As President, Obama continued, “I did not in any way want to endanger their capacity to go in, investigate and potentially charge perpetrators, which meant that I could not come down or appear to come down decisively in terms of guilt or innocence in terms of what happened. So you had institutional constraints.”
Zimmerman’s acquittal led to the start of #BlackLivesMatter as a hashtag and movement, while protests erupted around the country after a grand jury declined to indict Wilson.
“I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed,” Obama had said in 2014 as outrage flared nationwide over the killing of Brown. “Because, although these are, you know, issues of local jurisdiction — you know, the DOJ works for me. And then when they’re conducting an investigation, I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other.”
The former President added Wednesday that he “constantly struggled” with translating the passion and concern around some events — like the shootings of Martin and Brown — into political action.
“But what I’m proud of is that not only were we able to refashion how the Justice Department thought about these issues — coming in, looking at a jurisdiction like Ferguson and saying: ‘How do we use all the tools of the federal government to rethink what they’re doing and to hold them accountable?’ — but also to be able to use our convening power to gather and focus attention on what are the practical outcomes that can be implemented across the country.”
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