INDIANAPOLIS -- Sen. Barack Obama weighed in today on the acquittals of New York City police detectives charged in fatally shooting an unarmed black Queens man, Sean Bell, saying he believed that the verdict needed to be respected and urging those who disagreed with it not to resort to violence. That would be "completely unacceptable and counterproductive," Obama said.
"Well, look, obviously there was a tragedy in New York. I said at the time, without benefit of all the facts before me, that it looked like a possible case of excessive force. The judge has made his ruling, and we're a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down," he said in response to a question at a gas station in Indianapolis, where he was holding a news conference.
"The most important thing for people who are concerned about that shooting is to figure out how do we come together and assure those kinds of tragedies don't happen again," he continued. ... "Resorting to violence to express displeasure over a verdict is something that is completely unacceptable and counterproductive."
The verdict, which has touched off a storm of protest in New York, arrives at a delicate time in the campaign for Obama. After his loss to Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Pennsylvania primary, some Democrats are quietly worrying whether Obama's difficulty in winning over working-class white voters could pose a problem for the party if he is the nominee.
Obama addressed that challenge, along with several other racially oriented questions, at his wide-ranging news conference, standing before a gas pump. He dismissed the comments made by his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in an interview this week, in which Wright labeled as political posturing Obama's speech criticizing incendiary snippets of Wright's sermons.
"I've commented extensively on my profound disagreements with some of Reverend Wright's comments. I understand that he may not agree with me on my assessment of his comments, and that's to be expected," Obama said. "He's obviously free to express his opinion on these issues. I've expressed mine very clearly -- I think that what he said in several instances was objectionable, and I understand why the American people took offense. As I indicated before, I took offense."
Obama also declined to engage with comments made this week by Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking black member of the House of Representatives, who said that Bill Clinton's actions during the campaign may have left an irreparable breach between Clinton and the black community.
"I never believe in irreparable breaches. I'm a big believer in reconciliation and redemption," he said. "So, look, this has been a fierce contest. I've said repeatedly, come August there will be a whole lot of people standing on a stage with a lot of balloons and confetti raining down on the Democratic nominee, and people are going to be excited about taking on John McCain in November."
And he generally downplayed the challenge of winning white, working-class voters, saying he was confident that many of them would support him after he had a chance to draw a contrast with John McCain.
"There have been concerns in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but in both of those states, if you look at the polling, those Democrats are more than likely to vote for me in a general election. They preferred Senator Clinton, although we did better in Pennsylvania than in Ohio," he said. "Bottom line is, I think people across the board are figuring out how are we lowering gas prices, how are we putting people back to work, are we going to make sure we're dealing with the war in Iraq and starting to bring our troops home now. I don't think there's a huge difference between the black working, the white working class, suburban, urban rural. I think people want to see the country make progress. So what I'm going to continue to do is address issues that affect people's bottom lines, the issues they're talking about around the kitchen table."