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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

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.

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Taiwan President Announced Re- election after she Spoke Against China’s President Suggestion

Tsai indicated she plans to run for another four-year term as president.

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FILE - Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, Jan. 5, 2019. VOA

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen announced her re-election bid this week following a bump in public polling that came after she spoke out against Chinese President Xi Jinping’s suggestion that Taiwan and China unify as one country.

She was polling at 24 percent after her party lost local elections in November. In January she was speaking out every few days against Xi’s idea and her approval ratings hit 34.5 percent by Jan. 21, according to a Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation survey.

On Wednesday, Tsai indicated she plans to run for another four-year term as president. Inspired by her jump in approval ratings, Tsai will center at least the early part of her campaign over the coming year on raising public suspicion of China, political scientists say.

“Their campaign strategy is to speak of hating China, fearing China and refusing China,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University. If officials reiterate these messages and they appear in the mass media, he said, “ultimately people will be affected by them.”

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since the 1940s and insists that the two sides eventually unify. Most Taiwanese oppose that outcome.

 

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FILE- President of China Xi Jinping arrives for the APEC CEO Summit 2018 at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Nov. 17, 2018. VOA

Opportunity to talk about China

The Chinese president’s Jan. 2 speech urging Taiwan to accept unification gave Tsai an unexpected opening to warn citizens against ties with China, political experts say.

In his remarks, Xi urged Taiwan to merge with China under a “one country, two systems” model that his government applies now to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is ruled from Beijing, but local officials make some decisions.

China has claimed Taiwan since the Chinese Civil War, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost and rebased their government in Taiwan. Tsai took office in 2016. Since then she has irked China by refusing to negotiate on the condition that both sides belong to one China.

More than 70 percent of Taiwanese say in government surveys they prefer today’s self-rule, or full legal independence from China, over unification.

In one comment since the Chinese president’s speech, Tsai warned at an impromptu news conference Wednesday against any China-Taiwan peace agreement.

“China’s military ambitions and not giving up deployment of arms against Taiwan are making the region unstable,” she said. “As China doesn’t give up weapons aimed at Taiwan and emphasizes ‘one country, two systems,’ there’s no way to negotiate equally and there can’t be any real peace.”

Knack for China issues

Tsai, as former chairwoman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and a former government official in charge of Taiwan’s China policy, knows the issue particularly well, said Lin Chong-pin, a retired strategic studies professor in Taiwan.

“This is her forte,” Lin said. “She has been immersed in it for 18 long years.”

Since 2016, China has shown displeasure with Tsai by passing military aircraft and ships near Taiwan and persuading five foreign countries to switch allegiance from Taipei to Beijing. Taiwan has just 17 allies left.

“In international relations, what she can do is limited, we all know that, but in winning the public support in Taiwan, especially on controversial issues like ‘one country, two systems,’ she’s very, very capable,” Lin said.

Her party takes a guarded view of China compared to Taiwan’s main opposition camp, which advocates that the two sides talk on Beijing’s condition.

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FILE – Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je casts his ballot at a polling station, Nov. 24, 2018, in Taipei, Taiwan. VOA

Tough campaign

According to a survey released Thursday by Taiwan television network TVBS, Tsai would take 16 percent of the vote if the presidential race were held today and she ran against non-party aligned Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je and Han Kuo-yu, opposition Nationalist Party mayor of the southern city Kaohsiung. The two mayors would get shares of more than 30 percent each, TVBS said.

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FILE – Nationalist Party’s Han Kuo-yu reacts after winning the mayoral election in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, Nov. 24, 2018. VOA

Much of the public wants Tsai to stand up against China but also take stronger action on domestic economic problems, voters said in interviews in November. Among the domestic issues: low wages compared to other parts of Asia and rising costs, especially real estate.

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“She has already shown that she is against the ‘one family, two sides’ or ‘one country, two systems.’ That’s good,” said Shane Lee, political scientist with Chang Jung Christian University in Taiwan. “That will probably give her some points. But domestically there are many policies she will have to change.” (VOA)