Obama returns early from a European tour to a country simmering with tension and a racial divide that seems to be widening in the wake of more killings
From a perch about 300 yards to the east of the Texas school book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald took his fateful aim in 1963, another American sniper this week fired shots on to the streets of Dallas that have echoed around the United States.
The assassination of five police officers by a black army veteran who told authorities he wanted to kill white people threatens to snap tense relations between law enforcement and African Americans that have now been at breaking point for almost two years.
Dallas had a tragedy when President Kennedy was shot here in the 60s, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said this week. And this is as close to that feeling, I think, as the citys had in decades.
Barack Obama will abandon a European tour and travel to Dallas early next week before hosting a crisis summit at the White House between senior police officials and community group leaders. Aides described the talks as a fresh attempt to find common ground and tackle the persistent racial disparities in our criminal justice system.
The president will return to lead a nation grappling with a racial divide wider than it has been for at least a generation, and struggling with the frequent boiling over of unrest that has been simmering since the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, in the summer of 2014.
After a week earlier marked by two more controversial killings of African Americans by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, demonstrations against the use of excessive force raged again this weekend in cities such as Baltimore, Atlanta and Philadelphia. Thousands of protesters marched and blocked traffic on highways to their self-proclaimed new civil rights movement.
The five officer deaths in Dallas were the first of law enforcement personnel around such demonstrations. Dallas Police Chief David Brown said the 25-year-old gunman, Micah Xavier Johnson, said he was upset about the recent police shootings, upset about Black Lives Matter, and was upset at white people.
The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers, Brown said. Detectives later uncovered bomb-making materials, ballistic vests, rifles, ammunition, and a personal journal of combat tactics at Johnsons home, police said in a statement.
Rightwing conservatives who have raged against his premiership for more than seven years suggested Obama had blood on his hands for delivering remarks just hours before the Dallas shootings in which he urged white Americans to take seriously the Black Lives Matter protest movements grievances over racism in the criminal justice system.
Shame on politicians and pundits giving credence to thugs rioting against police officers and the rule of law in the name of peaceful protests, said Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican nominee for vice president. It is a farce. #BlackLivesMatter is a farce.
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, declared that racial tensions have gotten worse, not better under Obamas leadership. We must restore law and order, he said.
Obama had in fact struck a careful balance, stressing that despite legitimate concerns, American should have an extraordinary appreciation and respect for the vast majority of police officers, describing their job as dangerous and difficult. He spoke again on Friday after the Dallas shootings to call the attack vicious, calculated and despicable.
The reaction, however, reflected a consistently sharp divide on the subject among Americans. A Pew poll last month found 84% of black Americans believe police treat blacks unfairly, compared with 50% of white respondents. While more than two-thirds of African Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement, a minority of white people and just 20% of Republicans feel the same way.
The presidents comments were prompted by fresh anger over the fatal shootings by police of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Sterling was shot while being pinned down by officers during a struggle in which a pistol remained in his pocket. Castile was shot during a traffic stop over a broken headlight while reaching for his ID, and after warning the officer that he was legally carrying a firearm, his girlfriend said.
Both deaths were partially captured on mobile phone video footage that was widely shared online, amplifying public concern, drawing condemnation from political leaders and cultural figures such as the singer Beyonc Knowles, and prompting new demonstrations across the country.
It was during one such march through downtown Dallas that Johnson, who was a member of the New Black Panther party, opened fire from a college parking garage. Using an AR-15 rifle he shot dead officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, and wounded seven other people.