On Sunday President Barack Obama answered a reporter’s question after meeting with Spain’s acting Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy. In his comments Obama called for greater tolerance, respect and understanding from police officers toward the people they serve, as well as from individuals who think police officers are intolerant, and go after minorities.

Obama spoke about the Black Lives Matter protests and defended the movement as crucial to the preservation of free speech:

“One of the great things about America is that individual citizens and groups of citizens can petition their government, can protest, can speak truth to power. And that is sometimes messy and controversial. But because of that ability to protest and engage in free speech, America over time has gotten better. We’ve all benefitted from that.”

He went on to compare the recent protests to other “contentious” movements that occurred throughout the nation’s history:

“The abolition movement was contentious. The effort for women to get the right to vote was contentious and messy. There were times when activists might have engaged in rhetoric that was overheated, and occasionally counterproductive, but the point was to raise issues so that we as a society could grapple with them. The same was true with the Civil Rights movement and the Union movement and the environmental movement and the anti-war movement during Vietnam. And I think what you’re seeing now is part of that long standing tradition.”

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