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Obama asks Americans not to fear a return to a dark past

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  • President Barack Obama speaks about the events in Dallas at the beginning of his news conference at PGE National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, July 9, 2016. Obama is in Warsaw attending the NATO Summit. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WARSAW, Poland >> President Barack Obama on Saturday rejected any notion that the past week’s stunning violence signals a return to racial brutality of a dark past, saying that as painful as the killings of police and black men were, “America is not as divided as some have suggested.”

With five Dallas police officers dead at the hands of a sniper and two black men dead at the hands of police, Obama appealed to Americans not to be overwhelmed by fear of a return to 1960s-style chaos and to understand the progress that has been made in racial relations since that time.

“You’re not seeing riots and you’re not seeing police going after people who are protesting peacefully,” he said. “You’ve seen almost uniformly peaceful protests and you’ve seen, uniformly, police handling those protests with professionalism.”

Obama spoke at the conclusion of a NATO summit in Warsaw before leaving for Spain, part of a farewell trip to Europe he was cutting short by one day because of the developments at home.

The comments marked the third time in as many days that Obama has spoken, from a distance, about the police-involved fatal shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota that were followed by a sniper attack in Dallas that killed five police officers. Seven other officers and two civilians were also injured.

Obama said the Dallas shooter, a black Army veteran who was later killed by police, was a “demented individual” who does not represent black Americans any more than a white man accused of killing blacks at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, represents whites.

The president said he would visit Dallas in a few days to pay respects and mourn with the stricken Texas city. The shootings, and the ensuing protests in some U.S. cities, led to an uncharacteristic response from the president: He cut his five-day, two-country European trip to four days.

Obama proceeded with his plan to visit Madrid but scrapped a stop in the southern city of Seville. He was cramming two days of events into one, including meetings with interim President Mariano Rajoy and a visit with U.S. sailors stationed at a naval base in Rota.

In his news conference before departing Poland, Obama said that while “there is sorrow, there is anger, there is confusion” in the U.S., “there’s unity in recognizing that this is not how we want our communities to operate. This is not who we want to be as Americans and that serves as the basis for us being able to move forward in a constructive and positive way.”

The president said he planned to convene a White House meeting in coming days with police officers, community and civil rights activists and others to talk about next steps. He said the “empathy and understanding” that Americans have shown in responding to the events of the past few days, including Dallas police officers even as they came under attack, had given him hope.

“That’s the spirit that we all need to embrace,” Obama said. “That’s the spirit that I want to build on.”

But Obama, who has angered his political opponents after every deadly mass shooting by calling for tighter gun laws, made clear that he will continue to speak out about the need for such measures, which the Republican-controlled Congress has refused to go along with. He said the U.S. is unique among advanced countries in the scale of violence it experiences.

The president spoke sympathetically of police officers in gun-filled communities who have “very little margin of error” when deciding how to engage with people on the street who may well be armed, whether they mean harm or not. “Police have a really difficult time in communities where they know guns are everywhere,” he said.

“If you care about the safety of our police officers, then you can’t set aside the gun issue and pretend it’s irrelevant.”

Citing laws allowing the carrying of guns in Texas, he said that even some of the Dallas protesters who staged a peaceful rally before the sniper attack were armed. He also cited the presence of an apparently legally owned gun in the car where motorist Philando Castile was shot dead during a traffic stop in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota.

Obama also tried to calm public anxiety about personal safety, saying violent crime is actually down in the U.S.

“So as tough, as hard, as depressing as the loss of life was this week, we’ve got a foundation to build on,” he said. “We just have to have confidence that we can build on those better angels of our nature.”

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  • White (and other) police need to be retrained to not use force when unnecessary. When routine traffic stops end up with a harmless black man being shot, things were not done right. Re-educate the police.

    • How do you know a harmless black man was shot or that things were not done right? It is known that he had a weapon in the vehicle. It also has been reported that the police officer told Castile not to move, but he disregarded the officer and was reaching for something. Was it the gun or his wallet containing the carry permit? We do not know and will not know until the incident is properly investigated, and everyone would be wise to wait and not jump to conclusions as they apparently are doing.

        • Yep, some people just don’t know how to act when they are being questioned by a cop. When you are being questioned by a copy, be aware that he is afraid for his life too, so don’t do anything stupid. But some people don’t get it.

        • Yep, some people just don’t know how to act when they are being questioned by a cop. When you are being questioned by a cop, be aware that he is afraid for his life too, be cool. But some people just don’t get it.

      • and the cop who may have made an incorrect split decision was not white as was reported today. Let us wait until the full investigation is done.

    • A person who listens & complies with a police officer’s requests when stopped that person will live another day. IF that person DOESN’T listen & comply then that person takes his/her fate into their on hands.
      How simple is that.

    • MillionMonkeys, the Hawaii born President Obama wants to go back to the 1960’s? No way. I survived the ’60’s and Hawaii born President Obama does not get it about forming a Federal Police Force and taking guns away from citizens. He has it all backwards.

  • The divider in chief can’t contain himself, and immediately uses this tragedy to push his political agenda. He believes that things are better off now, and is so tone deaf that he thinks that things are better now than when he took office. Hopefully America will heal after the nightmare of the Obama Administration is gone.

    • What has Obama accomplished in his 7+ years to address the racial prejudice problem in America?

      Funny how he doesn’t bring up the issue in his own town – Washington D.C. has the most amount of killings by guns and one of the most stringent gun laws in the nation.

      He doesn’t bring up all the killings in Chicago where he chose to build his ‘Presidential Library’.

  • This racial divide all started in the days of slavery when ‘White’ men saw it fit to import a race of people to be their slaves. To work as hard laborers in the cotton fields, provide maid services by cooking and cleaning. Then the racial divide of not allowing Blacks to use the same bathroom/drinking water fountain or voting rights. Back then, The Blacks were considered an ‘inferior’ race of people and forced to sit in the back of the bus or not allowed the same privileges of the ‘white’ man.

    Fast forward to 2016 where the bias still exists. Not to the levels of slavery, however the same mentality as thinking of another race as ‘inferior’. Blacks are tired of getting mistreated and are standing up demanding that History not be repeated. This, along with the police forces all over the nation are not properly training their police force to treat people with ‘respect’ fosters this feeling of resentment by the Black Americans.

    I was told by a black friend of mine that he and his wife found the perfect home to purchase, however when noticing a confederate flag hanging in the bedroom window for all to see. He didn’t buy that home for fear of his potential neighbor.

    As Rodney King said, “CAN’T WE ALL GET ALONG ???”

  • “America is not as divided as some have suggested”. Mr. President, I believe you have the one suggesting it.

    Of course, it is not as divided but some groups (including the media) have a vested interest in making it appear that way!

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