COLUMBIA, S.C. — President Barack Obama says this weekend's 50th anniversary commemoration of historic civil rights marches is as much about stirring young people to change as about honoring yesterday's legends, calling the push for "a fair and more just criminal justice system" part of the modern struggle.
Obama is leading Saturday's tribute in Selma, Alabama, where where 50 years ago police beat scores of people who were marching from Selma to Montgomery to protest their lack of voting rights. The marches helped lead to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"Selma is not just about commemorating the past, it's about honoring the legends who helped change this country through your actions today, in the here and now," Obama said at a town hall meeting at South Carolina's Benedict College. "Selma is now."
In a radio interview broadcast earlier Friday, Obama said improving civil rights and liberties with police is an area that "requires collective action and mobilization" a half-century after an earlier generation of activists changed the nation. He made his first remarks about this week's Justice Department report of racial bias in Ferguson, which found officers routinely discriminated against blacks by using excessive force.
"I don't think that is typical of what happens across the country, but it's not an isolated incident," Obama said in an interview that aired Friday on The Joe Madison Radio Show on Sirius XM radio's Urban View channel.
"I think that there are circumstances in which trust between communities and law enforcement have broken down, and individuals or entire departments may not have the training or the accountability to make sure that they're protecting and serving all people and not just some," Obama said.
Obama told students at Benedict College that Selma was possible because of the young people who decided to act. He noted that one of the most famous leaders of the Selma march — now Georgia Rep. John Lewis — was just 23 years old at the time.
"It was young people who stubbornly insisted on justice, stubbornly refused to accept the world as it is that transformed not just the country but transformed the world," Obama said.
The visit was Obama's first to South Carolina as president. South Dakota and Utah are the only states he has not traveled to while in office.
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