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Obama calls for national 'soul searching' over Freddie Gray's death

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday criticized those rioting in the streets of Baltimore as "criminals" and "thugs" and argued that broader societal changes are needed to address underlying tensions that exist between African American communities and the police.

Making his first remarks on the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing violence, Obama said fixing the problems experienced in Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., and other cities will require politically difficult choices on education, criminal justice reform and economic investment in neighborhoods often overlooked until such incidents occur.

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"If we are serious about solving this problem, then we're going to need to not only help the police, we're to have to think about what we can do -- the rest of us," Obama said during a Rose Garden press conference with the Prime Minister of Japan.

"That's hard," he said. "That requires more than just the occasional news report or task force.

"If we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It's just that it would require everyone saying, 'this is important, this is significant,'" Obama said.

"And we don't just pay attention when a CVS burns," he added. "That's how I feel."

In an extended discussion in response to a single question on the situation in Baltimore, Obama noted that the Justice Department is looking into the Freddie Gray incident and said that members of his administration will visit the city.

He argued that the riots, which grew particularly intense after Gray's funeral on Monday, had unnecessarily overshadowed more peaceful protests in previous days.

"That is not a protest. That is not a statement," Obama said of the violence. "It's a handful of people taking advantage of the situation. They need to be treated as criminals."

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