President Barack Obama on Thursday defended the Black Lives Matter movement, explaining to law enforcement officials that the social justice movement is not anti-white or anti-police, but rather calls attention to issues plaguing the African-American community.

While speaking at a panel discussion on criminal justice reform at the White House, the president said the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the issues facing black Americans that have long been ignored by mainstream white America.

"There is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that is not happening in other communities, and that is a legitimate issue that we've got to address," Obama said at the end of the panel, moderated by Bill Keller, a former New York Times editor, who now oversees a criminal justice news organization, according to The New York Times. Also on the panel was Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and U.S. Attorney John Walsh of Colorado, while other police chiefs and Justice Department officials filled the audience.

The nation's first African-American president went on to explain that the issues plaguing the black community are "real" since black Americans are disproportionately arrested, imprisoned and harassed by police officers.

"The African-American community is not just making this up. It's not something that's just being politicized. It's real," Obama said, according to USA Today. "We as a society, particularly given our history, have to take this seriously."

Although the Black Lives Matter movement is often criticized as being anti-white and anti-police, Obama suggested that the organizers value all lives and do support good law enforcement. He also addressed the backlash that the social media-driven movement has received from some police officers and others who have responded by declaring, "All Lives Matter."

"I think everybody understands all lives matter. Everybody wants strong, effective law enforcement. Everybody wants their kids to be safe when they're walking to school. Nobody wants to see police officers who are doing their job, fairly, hurt. Everybody understands it's a dangerous job," he said.

The president also called for a broader discussion on criminal justice reform that needs to expand beyond police and prosecutors.