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Obama Honors Slain Police Officers as Nation Grapples with Inflamed Racial Divide

The president has strongly condemned the use of violence during demonstrations, but he has expressed sympathy for their cause

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a memorial service following the multiple police shootings in Dallas, Texas, July 12, 2016. Image source: Reuters
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President Barack Obama honored five slain police officers during a memorial Tuesday in Dallas, saying the past week of violence has exposed “the deepest fault line of our democracy,” while also insisting that the nation is not as divided as some claim.

The president asked Americans to try to find common ground as he works to unite a nation deeply divided on the question of race relations between law enforcement and the minority communities they serve.

Last week’s attack on Dallas police by a black Army veteran who was angry over police killings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota intensified a national debate over racial bias in law enforcement.

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In remarks that ranged from the dedication of law enforcement officers to racial bias in America, Obama said he understood that people across Dallas and the country are suffering.

The president honored the five slain officers and called for unity and hope.

“I understand how Americans are feeling, but Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject such despair,” Obama said.

He urged the nation to speak “honestly and openly” about the current state of race relations, saying an overwhelming number of police officers is “worthy of our respect, not our scorn.”

Although race relations have improved dramatically in America in recent decades, he added, “America, we know bias remains, we know it.”

Five seats were left empty to represent each of the fallen officers during a crowded and emotional memorial at the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.

‘Hatred and malice’

“They were peacemakers in blue; they have died for that cause,” proclaimed Mayor Mike Rawlings.  “The soul of our city was pierced when police officers were ambushed in a cowardly attack.” He added, “Today must be about unity.”

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Vice President Joe Biden and Obama’s predecessor, former President George W. Bush, also attended the memorial.

Bush condemned the “hatred and malice” behind the attack and called for unity, hope, and tolerance in its wake. The former president urged Americans to “honor the images of God we see in one another.”

Before the memorial, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Obama believes America must both fully support police officers and acknowledge “the reality of racial disparities” that exist in America.

The White House said the president is interested in comforting people across the nation after emotionally charged events in recent days, including the separate shooting deaths in Baton Rouge and St. Paul.

From conversation to action

While traveling to Dallas, Obama telephoned the families of both men killed by police, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, to offer condolences on behalf of the American people.

“These are legitimate concerns raised by all sides of the issues,” Earnest said. “The president is interested in trying to push that conversation into concrete action,” he added.

“The conversation is taking place in the context where it has often been painted, unfairly I think, as being hostile to law enforcement,” said Anderson Francois, Georgetown University School of Law.  “But I think this conversation is an important one, and I think he’s the best person in the position to do it.”

The fatal shootings were captured on video and sparked protests across the nation, and charges that white police officers unfairly target minorities.

On Wednesday, Obama will meet with law enforcement officials, civil rights leaders, activists, academics and political leaders from across the country to discuss ways to restore trust in communities where tension exists between law enforcement officials and residents they are sworn to protect.

The sniper, Micah Johnson, killed the police officers during a rally by the Black Lives Matter, a grass-roots movement trying to pressure political leaders to take action on police brutality and criminal justice reform.

The president has strongly condemned the use of violence during demonstrations, but he has expressed sympathy for their cause.

“I think the president has been very, very clear on a number of occasions about his support for the Black Lives Matter movement,” Francois said. “Yes, there are times when he’s challenged their tactics, but at the end of the day, he’s always been very clear that he’s in support of the ultimate goal.”

Investigators are looking into Johnson’s background. The Army reserve veteran died when police used a robot armed with explosives against him.

“We’re convinced that this suspect had other plans, and thought that what he was doing was righteous and believed that he was going to target law enforcement, make us pay for what he saw as law enforcement’s efforts to punish people of color,” said Dallas police chief David Brown.

Bomb-making materials and a rambling journal were found at Johnson’s home during a search. (VOA)

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  • Aparna Gupta

    Racial discrimination should be condemned by every nation. This move by US is really commendable.

Next Story

Why should we talk about Race?

Dr Kumar Mahabir, an anthropologist, brings out the topic of discrimination

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Race has always been a big deal whenever its been spoken about around the globe.
Race has always been a big deal whenever its been spoken about around the globe. Pic by Dr. Munish Raizada taken at the Race exhibition at Chicago History Museum. November 2017
-By Dr Kumar Mahabir
Even academics like me who often view certain topics through the lens of race sometimes
receive negative attention and judgement. Some people feel that speaking or writing
rationally about race is counter-productive and even racist.
Indo-Caribbean people (Indians), in particular, tend to receive condemnation when they
examine topics on the basis of race. Indian victims are often criticised for reporting
discrimination.
On the other hand, Afro-Caribbeans (Africans) receive either indifference or praise when they discuss race. For example, the following comment by a black calypsonian, published in a Trinidad national newspaper, drew praises: “In the midst of black consciousness in the 1970s, Bro Superior told black people ‘No matter where yuh born, Yuh still African’” (Guardian Nov 12, 2017).
Discussing race objectively with empirical data and statistical evidence is not racist. Racism
is the belief that another race of people is inferior. This attitude results in discrimination,
antagonism and domination individually, politically, economically and otherwise.
Race, ethnicity, class, sex, religion, nationality, geography, etc. are valid, legitimate and
appropriate social categories of difference in examining historical and contemporary issues.
Why should someone who talks objectively about race be criticised as a racist? Should we
also condemn someone who uses sex as a mode of inquiry as being sexist? To do so would be ignorant, biased and unfair.
In a recent public broadcast, the Prime Minister of multi-racial Trinidad and Tobago (T&T)
advised some citizens “not to see race in everything we do” (Express Sept 22, 2017). This ill- informed statement was made in relation to the mixed responses he received when he
appealed to citizens to open their homes to displaced Dominican refugees who were devastated by Hurricane Maria.
On the contrary, people should be encouraged to “see race” as well as sex (gender), class, nationality, geography and types of social identity. Studying race can reveal differences in the form of disparities, disadvantages, inequalities, power and privilege which have structured human life in the past and present. To overlook race would be to ignore the elephant in the room.
Criminologist and social psychologist Dr Ramesh Deosaran wrote a book entitled Inequality,
Crime & Education in Trinidad and Tobago: Removing the Masks (2016). He found that there was a toxic relationship among race, class, gender, family and geography, resulting in African students performing the worst in the education system.
Deosaran wrote: “Wittingly or unwittingly, the education system, to a large extent, becomes a racially segregated system. And with academic achievement also stratified by race” (page 163). His data showed that while 47% of African students went to university three years after secondary school, as much as 72% of Indians did so, and 49% of the Mixed group also attended.
Prospective students of Whitman College in the USA are encouraged to enrol in its Race and Ethnic Studies programme. They are told that “ideas about race and ethnicity have been central at many points in world history and remain salient today, whether we talk about ethnic pride or ethnic cleansing, about multicultural diversity or racial discrimination.”
Race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably. However, race refers to biological features (bone structure, facial features, hair texture, skin colour, etc.) and ethnicity denotes cultural traits (history, customs, religion, family-type, values, music, food, etc.).
In the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) CSEC Social Studies syllabus, Section A
(Individual, Family and Society) comprises of a content section that explains characteristics
of the population. These characteristics include age, sex, occupation, religion and ethnicity. In the CXC CAPE Sociology syllabus under Unit 1, Module 3, Social Stratification is
conceptualised according to status mobility, gender, class, colour, caste, race and ethnicity.
The topic of race and ethnicity is studied not only in sociology but also in history,
anthropology, cultural studies, visual culture, media, literature, communication, law, health,
human rights, gender, political science, economics, geography, public policy, international
relations, social psychology, etc.
In a research paper entitled “Understanding race and crime in Trinidad and Tobago,”
criminologist Dr Randy Seepersad (2017) found that most of the murderers, victims, accused and prisoners are Africans. His disaggregated data demonstrated that most of the violent crimes are committed by blacks against blacks.
In 2011, former National Security Minister John Sandy said, “We must recognise that it is
people looking like me who are being murdered, mothers like my mother, God rest her soul, who are out there weeping more than any other race” (Express Sep 3, 2011).
Race has always been a major factor in voting in all general elections in T&T. This form of
ethnic polarisation has been well documented by pollsters such as SARA, NACTA, ANSA
McAl and H.H.B. & Associates Ltd. Most Africans and Mixed persons support the PNM
while most Indians vote for the PP/UNC.
 
Dr. Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books. He lives in Trinidad.