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By Don Lee, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, responding to the recent protests and racial tensions across the country, appealed for patience and persistence in solving what he described as an issue “that is deeply rooted in our society … our history.”

“When you’re dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society, you got to have vigilance, but you have to recognize that it’s going to take some time,” Obama said in an interview to be aired Monday on BET Networks. “You just have to be steady so you don’t give up when we don’t get all the way there,” he said in a short video clip of the interview released Sunday.

Obama has come under increasing pressure to speak out after last week’s decision by a New York grand jury not to prosecute a police officer, Daniel Pantoleo, in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, when he was being arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. That decision came barely a week after a Ferguson, Mo, police officer, Darren Wilson, was not indicted for fatally shooting Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American whose death prompted protest in the town of Ferguson, Mo.

As the first African-American president, Obama has in the past addressed America’s racial tensions in a personal way, saying for instance after the 2012 shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin that it could have been Obama’s son or even himself 35 years ago.

Obama has expressed empathy for those angered by unfair policing practices, while condemning the looting in the streets. But the president has refrained from visiting Ferguson and has generally sought to frame the problem as part of a national debate on law enforcement and its tactics and relations with minority communities.

In the BET interview, Obama acknowledges the lingering grip of racism in America but also urges against despairing over the recent events.

“It’s important to recognize, as painful as these incidents are, we can’t equate what’s happening now with what was happening 50 years ago,” he said. “Things are better. Not good in some cases, but better,” Obama said. “And the reason it’s important for us to understand progress has been made is that, that then gives us hope we can make even more progress.”

AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov

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