(CNN) - Hillary Clinton broke her silence Thursday on the protests over the death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, telling an audience of technology investors that the United States "can do better."
Her statement, which came at the end of her prepared remarks to the Nexenta OpenSDx Summit, was the first time Clinton spoke about the protests since they began earlier this month, and her comments came after civil rights leaders had called on Clinton to weigh in.
"Watching the recent funeral for Michael Brown as a mother, as a human being, my heart just broke for his family because losing a child is every parent's greatest fear and an unimaginable loss," Clinton said. "But I also grieve for that community and many like it across our country. Behind the dramatic terrible pictures on television are deep challenges that will be with them and with us long after the cameras move on."
Brown was shot dead earlier this month by a police officer in the St. Louis suburb. The shooting sparked large protests that were accompanied by looting and a sizable police presence.
The former secretary of state and prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 has avoided questions about Ferguson since the protests began. At a book signing in Westhampton, New York on Sunday, Clinton did not respond to two reporters’ questions about Brown's killing.
Clinton’s statement on Thursday struck a balance between grieving with Brown's family and highlighting some of the positive police work that occurred in Ferguson around the protests.
"This is what happens when the bonds of trust and respect that hold any community together fray," Clinton said at the event in San Francisco. "Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone, not in America. We are better than that."
Clinton also applauded President Barack Obama for his response to Ferguson, which included a statement on the killing and the dispatching of Attorney General Eric Holder to the suburb.
"We can do better," Clinton said. "We cannot ignore the inequities that persist in our justice system. Inequities that undermine our most deeply held values of fairness and equality."
She continued: "Imagine what we would feel and what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers instead of the other way around. If white offenders received prison sentences ten percent longer than black offenders for the same crimes. If a third of all white men – just look at this room and take one-third – went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that. That is the reality in the lives of so many of our fellow Americans in so many of the communities in which they live."
In the weeks after the shooting, civil rights and black thought leaders had called on Clinton to comment on Ferguson. At a rally earlier this month about the killing, Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader and host on MSNBC, said, "Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, don’t get laryngitis on this issue. … Nobody can go to the White House unless they stop by our house and talk about policing."
Marc Lamont Hill, a CNN commentator, said Clinton's decision to "ignore the question and to not proactively and assertively address the issue is shameful."
On Thursday, Clinton cited the life of Martin Luther King Jr. as a guide to how the United States should respond to the protests in Ferguson.
"It was 51 years ago today that Martin Luther King Jr. called us to live out the true meaning of our creed, to make the dream real for all Americans," Clinton said. "And that mission is as fiercely urgent today as when he stood on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and the hot august sun all those years ago."
Clinton supporters, like CNN contributor Donna Brazille, heralded the statement as both timely and needed. "
"She's right, we can do better," said Brazille, who added that she didn't counsel Clinton on the statement. "It's time we start to take the necessary steps to build one America so everyone can enjoy the American Dream."
Not all were satisfied with the timing of Clinton's statement, however.
"Hillary Clinton offers a statement on Michael Brown and Ferguson. 19 days later," Hill tweeted in response to the speech. "Next she'll offer her thoughts on Rodney King and Vietnam."