WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama has said the fatal shootings of two black men by police in as many days are “not isolated incidents” and that all Americans should be “deeply troubled”.
He acknowledged that the US had a “serious problem” but called for people to come together as a nation.
Protests have continued since the shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Minnesota on Wednesday.
It came a day after Alton Sterling was shot dead by police in Louisiana.
The incidents follow a long line of controversial deaths of African-Americans at the hands of the police that has ignited a national debate about the use of lethal force.
In a statement, President Obama said such fatal shootings were “symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve”.
He added: “As a nation, we can and must do better to institute the best practices that reduce the appearance or reality of racial bias in law enforcement.”
The national debate has been stoked by videos of both incidents that quickly went viral on social media.
Philando Castile’s girlfriend live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting in St Paul, showing him covered in blood as an officer pointed a gun at him.
Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds was heard telling the police officer that her boyfriend had been reaching for his wallet, as he had been instructed to do.
“You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his licence and registration, sir,” she says in the video.
The officer can be heard shouting: “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand out.”
Protesters gathered outside the St Paul home of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, who later requested a federal investigation into the shooting.
An emotional Ms Reynolds joined protesters outside the governor’s house, saying that she had filmed the incident so “the world knows that these police are not here to protect and serve us, they are here to assassinate us”.
Mr Castile, 32, worked as a cafeteria supervisor at a Montessori school. His cousin Antonio Johnson told the Star Tribune newspaper he was “immediately criminally profiled” because he was black.
Hundreds of people also gathered for a second night of protests in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the shop where Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, was killed on Tuesday.
A second piece of video from Baton Rouge emerged on Wednesday appearing to show Mr Sterling being held down and then shot several times, although some shots are heard when the camera moves away from the confrontation.
Seconds later, one of the officers is seen removing an object from the man’s trousers as he lies on the ground with blood on his chest. A witness said he saw officers take a gun from Mr Sterling’s pocket after the shooting, but police have not commented on this.
The officers involved, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, have been put on administrative leave and the US department of justice has launched a civil rights investigation.
The officer involved in the St Paul shooting has also been placed on administrative leave.