Obama: Baltimore riots 'counterproductive' and 'no excuse' for it

President Barack Obama on Tuesday said the riots in response to Freddie Gray's death are counterproductive.

Speaking at a news conference in Washington, Obama said, "There's no excuse" for the kind of violence that erupted in Baltimore on Monday and "it is counterproductive." People looting and burning buildings are not protesting, they are criminals, he added.

"It is not a protest. It is not a statement. It is a handful of people taking advantage of the situation," Obama said.

The president said more should be done to fix the underlying issues happening in communities where young men are more likely to end up in jail than in college.

Read MoreBaltimore descends into riots

He said fixing the problem requires hard work that includes providing early education in low-income neighborhoods, criminal justice reform and making investments in urban communities.

"We can't just leave this to the police. ... We as a country have to do some soul-searching," he said. "If our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could, but it requires everybody saying this is important ... and that we don't just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns."

Baltimore descended into chaos Monday with widespread rioting, arson and looting, just hours after the funeral of Gray, prompting Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to declare a state of emergency at the request of the city's mayor.

Read MoreBaltimore smolders after riot

The Maryland State Police, backed by the state's National Guard, becomes the lead agency in the struggle to bring order to the city.

Col. William Pallozzi, superintendent of the state police, called the governor's action "huge" and said he was asking for deployment of 500 law enforcement officers from throughout Maryland and up to 5,000 law enforcement officers from nearby states to assist his force, along with up to 5,000 Guardsmen, in securing streets and neighborhoods in Baltimore.

The office of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reported Tuesday morning that there had already been 202 arrests, 144 car fires and 15 buildings burned since Monday afternoon.

—NBC News contributed to this report.

Correction: This version corrects the spelling of Pallozzi.