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Obama Remembers Ferguson, One Year Later

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -

One year after Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri -- and the subsequent deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and other unarmed black men across the nation who met their end at the hands of police officers -- President Obama is still struggling to address law enforcement issues and criminal justice reform.

"Over the past year, we've come to see, more clearly than ever, the frustration in many communities of color and the feeling that our laws can be applied unevenly," Mr. Obama said Saturday in a video.

That frustration, the president said, propelled his administration into action. The White House launched a task force on community policing efforts, and the Justice Department began initiatives doling out money to buy body cameras and collect data on the use of force. Mr. Obama even met personally with police officers for their ideas on improvement.

But while the president touted progress on improving police efforts across communities, he warned that "the issues raised over the past year aren't new, and they won't be solved by policing alone." The recent violence that broke out in Ferguson on the anniversary of Brown's death has only further proven Mr. Obama's point.

"We simply can't ask our police to contain and control issues that the rest of us aren't willing to address--as a society," Mr. Obama said.

The chief executive called on Congress specifically to reform federal sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders. And more generally, the president called for actions to "improve the criminal justice system that too often is a pipeline from inadequate schools to overcrowded jails."

The president made a similar plea last month, when he commuted the prison sentences of 46 drug offenders in jail for nonviolent crimes. The ensuing conversation on criminal justice reform coincided with talks on Capitol Hill addressing the same issues at the individual state levels.

Efforts to improve the criminal justice system have drawn surprisingly bipartisan support. In July, Mr. Obama even praised "some unlikely Republican legislators very sincerely concerned about making progress."

The president concluded with a broader appeal to "truly invest in our children and our communities."

That means, Mr. Obama said, "dealing honestly with issues of race, poverty and class that leave too many communities feeling isolated and segregated from greater opportunity."

In their own video, Republicans recommitted to conservative goals ahead of Congress' return from a month-long vacation, promising to roll back a host of the president's policies.

Kentucky Rep. Brett Guthrie lauded congressional accomplishments, including Medicare reform, expanded private access to care for veterans and fast-track trade legislation.

"These initiatives are already making a real difference," Guthrie said. "And they show what we can achieve when we find common ground."

But, Guthrie added, "we have a long way to go."

The Kentucky Republican laid out plans to repeal the president's Affordable Care Act and neuter the recently negotiated Iran nuclear deal.

With newly introduced legislation, Guthrie aims to gut the next round of regulations from Obamacare taking effect in the new year. The GOP congressman wants to prevent small businesses from being "forced into larger group insurance markets that have dramatically higher rates."

And when it comes to Mr. Obama's accord with Iran, Guthrie reiterated conservatives' "grave" worries about the deal, which is meant to curb the country's nuclear program.

"Like many Americans, I have grave concerns about this deal and whether it will make our country safer," the Kentucky lawmaker said. "Every Republican - and every Democrat - has to determine whether the president's deal meets that essential standard."

After its August recess, Congress will hold an up-or-down vote on the agreement. While the legislative body will not be able to cancel the deal completely, a disapproval vote can prevent the president from lifting the toughest sanctions against Iran.

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