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President Obama is on a balancing act when it comes to discussing the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., treading a fine line between police and protesters, and between black and white.

"While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns, and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos," Obama said during his brief news conference Tuesday. "It undermines rather than advancing justice."

Obama has questioned some of the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, but stressed that an investigation is ongoing. He has defended the right of police to maintain order, but criticized the use of excessive force, including the arrests of reporters.

"This is not an argument that there isn't real crime out there, and that law enforcement doesn't have a difficult job and that they have to be honored and respected for the danger and difficulty of law enforcement," Obama said.

But the "gulf of mistrust" between police and African-Americans cannot be ignored, he said, and everyone must work to make sure "that our criminal justice system is acutely aware of the possibilities of disparities in treatment, there are safeguards in place to avoid those disparities."

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The president said that protesters have legitimate grievances, both over the death of Brown as well as historic treatment of African-Americans by police. He has also criticized those demonstrators who have looted stores and thrown Molotov cocktails at police.

"It's clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting," Obama said. "What's also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not."

In discussing My Brother's Keeper and other efforts to help young men of color, Obama said "there are young black men that commit crime. And we can argue about why that happened -- because of the poverty they were born into and the lack of opportunity, or the schools systems that failed them, or what have you.

"But," he added, "if they commit a crime, then they need to be prosecuted because every community has an interest in public safety."

Obama, an attorney as well as the nation's first African-American president, has also been careful about speaking on a pending investigation.

The president has not spoken about Brown's death with the emotion he did when discussing the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin. In that case, however, Obama spoke out more after the trial of the man who shot Martin -- legal proceedings in the Ferguson case seem far off.

"I have to be very careful about not pre-judging these events before investigations are completed," Obama said. "Although these are issues of local jurisdiction, the DOJ works for me and when they're conducting an investigation I've got to make sure that I don't look like I'm putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other."

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