Two separate police shootings on Tuesday and Wednesday led to a series of protests across the country, one of which turned deadly for five police officers in Dallas with six more wounded.
It is important to point out that we do not have a full picture as of yet as to what occurred in Dallas, what the motive was, and therefore all commentary on it is speculative at best.
At this point what we know is quite limited – 10 police officers were shot by snipers during the protests, an 11th officer was shot in an exchange of gunfire with a suspect. Dallas Police Chief David Brown told the media last night that it’s unclear how many suspects were involved, but three people are in custody.
Two of the shooters were snipers, firing “ambush-style” from an “elevated position,” Chief Brown said.
CNN quoted retired FBI special agent Steve Moore as saying that the attack of this magnitude required advance work. “This was an attack planned long before — waiting for an opportunity to go,” Mr. Moore said. “I think there was so much logistically, ammunition-wise. They may not have planned the location, they may not have planned the vantage point. But they had prepared for an attack before last night’s shooting is my guess.”
President Barack Obama, who had strong words yesterday for law enforcement, has strong words this morning on the tragic shooting.
“We still don’t know all the facts, we do know there’s been a vicious, calculated and despicable act on law enforcement,” President Obama said. “I believe I speak for every American when I say we are horrified.”
The backdrop to this tragedy is two more police killings of black men. As we reported yesterday, a video showed Alton Sterling on Tuesday night, pinned to the ground in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when he was shot in the chest and back at close range by police officers.
The second death, the next day, came in Minnesota, when Philando Castile was stopped for a traffic stop in St. Paul and was shot several times by a police officer. The video starts right after the shooting, where the woman calmly tells the officer, “He was just getting his license and registration, sir,” noting to the camera that he was not reaching for the gun that he was legally licensed to carry.
“Would this have happened if the passengers, the drivers were white? I don’t think it would have,” Governor Mark Dayton said at a news conference on Thursday. “All of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”
President Obama also had strong words on Thursday, stating that “what I can say is that all of us as Americans should be troubled by these shootings, because these are not isolated incidents. They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”
The President then went through statistics, noting that “African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over. After being pulled over, African Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites. African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites. African American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.”
He said, “So that if you add it all up, the African American and Hispanic population, who make up only 30 percent of the general population, make up more than half of the incarcerated population.”
The point, as the President drove home, is that “when incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same. And that hurts. And that should trouble all of us. This is not just a black issue. It’s not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about. All fair-minded people should be concerned.”
The President added the need to rebuild trust between communities and the police departments, noting that some jurisdictions have already started to adopt these recommendations.
The President said that “ultimately, if you can rebuild trust between communities and the police departments that serve them, that helps us solve crime problems. That will make life easier for police officers. They will have more cooperation. They will be safer. They will be more likely to come home. So it would be good for crime-fighting and it will avert tragedy.”
In words that would prove tragically prophetic, the President added, “to all of law enforcement, I want to be very clear: We know you have a tough job. We mourn those in uniform who are protecting us who lose their lives. On a regular basis, I have joined with families in front of Capitol Hill to commemorate the incredible heroism that they’ve displayed. “
He added, “There is no contradiction between us supporting law enforcement — making sure they’ve got the equipment they need, making sure that their collective bargaining rights are recognized, making sure that they’re adequately staffed, making sure that they are respected, making sure their families are supported — and also saying that there are problems across our criminal justice system, there are biases — some conscious and unconscious — that have to be rooted out. That’s not an attack on law enforcement. That is reflective of the values that the vast majority of law enforcement bring to the job.”
It is a tragedy that has now comes to the fore.
Yesterday on the Vanguard we had a renewed debate on All Lives Matter v. Black Lives Matter.
As the President would put it, “If communities are mistrustful of the police, that makes those law enforcement officers who are doing a great job and are doing the right thing, it makes their lives harder. So when people say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter; it just means all lives matter, but right now the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents. “
The problem with All Lives Matter is that it ignores the inequity in the system. The example of a family sitting down at the table, everyone getting a piece of chicken but one, and the youngest stating, I need food. The father responds – we all need food. While true, the father’s statement misses the fact that one member of his family has been denied his food and therefore the father’s statement ignores the injustice that the youngest suffers.
As we noted last year, the reality is that implicit in the statement “Black Lives Matter” is the word “too.” That the Black Lives Matter movement is really stating that Black lives matter too.
We can see this statement in the Chicago report, “CPD’s own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”
Until the sanctity of life is respected, the phrase Black Lives Matter is a call for justice and equity in the system.
Clearly, the tragedy in Dallas will change the thinking. It is quite possible that the shootings in Dallas were the result of pent up anger over these police killings and it is also quite possible that the shootings had nothing to do with this issue at all. We need to learn more.
Assuming motive right now, the shootings make it all the more imperative that we change the way we do things – that we bring the communities of color together with the police and bring an end to the tactics that result in the loss of life that is needless and pointless.
—David M. Greenwald reporting