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‘This is an American problem,’ Obama says of deaths at hands of police

Protesters march through the streets in response to the grand jury's decision in the Eric Garner case in Times Square in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. The grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Protesters march through the streets in response to the grand jury's decision in the Eric Garner case in Times Square in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. The grand jury cleared a white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) AP

President Barack Obama interrupted his own speech at the White House Tribal Nations Conference to decry a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the choking death of a black male.

The case of Eric Garner case speaks to the "concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way," Obama said.

The verdict comes in the wake of a similar decision in Ferguson, Mo. and Obama said “we're seeing too many instances where people do not have confidence that folks are being treated fairly. And in some cases, those may be misperceptions; but in some cases, that’s a reality.”

Obama said he spoke with Attorney General Eric Holder, who was expected to make a statement about Garner’s death, but added, "I want everyone to know, we are not going to let up until we see a strengthening of the trust."

Obama said his tradition “is not to remark on cases where there may still be an investigation.” But, he said in the wake of Ferguson, he convened a task force to recommend ways to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color.

“This is an issue that we’ve been dealing with for too long and it’s time for us to make more progress than we’ve made,” he said.

Obama said he believes law enforcement “has an incredibly difficult job,” and are tackling “real crime,” but noted that “they’re only going to be able to do their job effectively if everybody has confidence in the system.”

Obama called on all Americans, “regardless of race, region or faith” to 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.”

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