President Barack Obama visits Dallas on Tuesday to address a memorial for five police officers killed at a protest against police violence, as he seeks to mend divisions inflamed by the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement in almost 15 years.
U.S. Army Reserve veteran Micah Johnson gunned down the officers on Thursday in retribution for police killings of black people, before being killed by an explosive-laden robot sent in by police.
Johnson attacked during a march protesting the police shootings last week of two black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and outside St. Paul, Minnesota. Theirs were the latest in a string of high-profile killings that have stirred the deepest debate on race and justice in America since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Obama has to twin sympathy over the Dallas attack and for rattled law enforcement officers around the country with support for black Americans who say police are too quick to use violence against them. After the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police last week, Obama said a significant number of Americans believe they are treated differently because of the color of their skin.
Obama, the first black U.S. president, has drawn criticism in the past from law enforcement for his tone in the aftermath of shootings by officers.
Obama told senior law enforcement officials on Monday that he sees the Dallas shooting as a hate crime, or one motivated by bias, said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, who was in the closed-door meeting at the White House.
Pasco said Obama drew a parallels between the actions of the Dallas shooter and Dylann Roof, the man prosecutors say espoused white supremacist beliefs before fatally shooting nine people in an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015.
Johnson, who was black, said that he wanted to “kill white people,” particularly police, according to a police account of their unsuccessful negotiations with him.
Johnson’s death makes the question of charges against him moot, but Pasco said police unions are using the incident to lobby for a change to a federal statute that would allow the targeting of police, regardless of their race, to be charged as a hate crime.
Hate crimes, which carry more severe penalties, are offenses committed with an added element of bias against a person or group for race or ethnicity, religion, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.
White House officials on Tuesday did not dispute Pasco’s account of the meeting.
GEORGE W. BUSH ALSO TO SPEAK
Obama will deliver his address at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center during a private memorial service scheduled for 12:45 p.m. CT (1745 GMT). Former president George W. Bush, who lives in Dallas, is also scheduled to speak. Obama will also meet the families of the slain policemen and others who were wounded, the White House said.
Police from nearby Arlington, Texas, will handle security for Obama’s visit, so that the city’s police force can grieve, Dallas Police Chief David Brown told reporters.
“I didn’t want my cops having that responsibility because of the fatigue factor,” Brown said on Monday. “I didn’t want something to go wrong with the president coming here, because we are tired.”
As he has done repeatedly after mass shootings in the last several years, Obama reiterated a call for stricter gun control in the United States following the Dallas attack.
The Senate took up the issue after an attack on a gay nightclub last month in Orlando that killed 49 people and was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. But senators failed to agree on any one approach. While Democrats in the House of Representatives, along with some Republicans, have been clamoring for legislation, deep divisions among Republicans who control the chamber have prevented any legislation from even reaching the House floor.
On Wednesday, Obama will host a meeting with law enforcement officials, activists and civil rights leaders to discuss ways to repair “the bonds of trust” between communities and police, the White House said on Monday.
The death toll in Dallas was the highest for law enforcement on a single day in America since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Nine officers and two civilians were also wounded in Johnson’s ambush.
Five people were arrested on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., after firing at police officers responding to reports of gunshots. No one was injured and their motive was not immediately clear.
SOURCE: Reuters, Jon Herskovitz