The week began with images of a black man sprawled across the ground in Louisiana, a victim of a shooting critics say was another example of a quick trigger-pull from police. In Minnesota the next night, the world watched a surreal live Facebook recording of a woman in Minnesota narrating her boyfriend’s death by a police officer during a traffic stop.
The week ended with images of the deadliest single incident aimed at police since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on US soil. A gunman killed at least five officers and wounded seven others amid what had, to that point, been a peaceful protest of the two previous incidents.
Together, the three incidents further divided a nation increasingly torn over racial issues amid national attention on police shootings and the most divisive presidential campaign in recent memory, featuring Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as their party’s presumptive presidential nominees.
“CIVIL WAR,” blared the Friday cover of the New York Post. The Drudge Report was quickly rebuked for a banner that said: “Black lives kill.”
The week of bloodshed fuelled both the broad fracture in the country, as well as calls for constructive solutions to change. What route to take has now become a matter of national urgency.
The incidents stirred sentiments of past summers of historic violence in America — 1965 in Los Angeles, 1967 in Detroit and Newark, and 1968, in which Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, followed by brutal clashes at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Today, a study from the Pew Research Center exposed the burgeoning racial divides on issues like policing, inequality, and racism. Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to say black people are treated less fairly in a variety of situations, from the workplace to restaurants. Moreover, blacks (61%) are far more likely than whites (45%) to say race relations are generally bad.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the week it reminded her of the division in San Francisco after the murder of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to be elected to office in the state.
Trump, in an unusually measured statement, said “our nation has become too divided” and that “too many Americans feel like they have lost hope.”
“I know this, we have in this country a terrible and growing problem. A growing and festering cancer in our country that is dividing us against one another in ways that we have not seen in half a century,” added Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, who ran for president in 2016.
As these statements were made, police were still gathering facts about each of the three incidents. In Dallas, David Brown, the police chief, said a suspected gunman who was killed in a standoff with police told them during unsuccessful negotiations that he wanted to “kill white people, especially white officers.”
Police in Tennessee, Georgia, and Missouri were also targeted in separate incidents this week, according to the Associated Press.
Brown spoke for his city, but also much of the nation, in a press conference Friday.
“We are heartbroken. There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city. All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” he said.
President Barack Obama, travelling in Poland for a NATO summit, was twice in fewer than 12 hours forced to speak on the horrific domestic incidents, as he carefully moved to navigate a litany of different viewpoints about the country’s racial divide.
Late Thursday, he discussed the racial disparities in the US justice system after the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile. Eleven hours later, he called the Dallas shooting a “vicious, calculated, and despicable attack on law enforcement.”
“Even as yesterday I spoke about our need to be concerned, as all Americans, about racial disparities in our criminal justice system. I also said yesterday that our police have an extraordinarily difficult job and the vast majority of them do their job in outstanding fashion,” Obama said.
He spoke to an American public whose political divisiveness has gone hand in hand with the increased racial tensions.
Those divisions have grown over the past decade, and they have been exacerbated in a presidential campaign that has seen a major party’s presumptive nominee make inflammatory statements about Mexicans, Muslims, and other racial groups. Trump’s rallies have seen unprecedented violence by recent historical precedent. Critics have argued his words have spurred more violence.
In general, according to the Pew Research Center, people from each political party view the other party with more antipathy now than at any point in recent memory. Today, 58% of Republicans have a very unfavorable impression of the Democratic Party, an increase from just 32% during the 2008 election year. And 55% of Democrats view the GOP in a very unfavorably way, compared with 37% in 2008.
In just more than a week, Republicans will gather in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention, to be followed by the Democratic version the next week. Cleveland’s police, already expecting a tense event full of protests, have already taken steps in the wake of the Dallas shooting to beef up security.
In the aftermath of the week’s violence, Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke to the mood of the nation. She urged its citizens to take the better path.
“This has been a week of profound grief and heartbreaking loss,” Lynch said. “After the events of this week, Americans across the county are feeling a sense of helplessness, of uncertainty and of fear. These feelings are understandable and they are justified. But the answer must not be violence. The answer is never violence.”
She added: “We must reject the easy impulses of bitterness and rancor and embrace the difficult work of finding a path forward together.”
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