- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 10, 2016

President Obama cut short a trip to Europe Sunday night and returned to the U.S., hoping to calm tensions from the assassinations of five police officers in Dallas, to address multiplying protests in major cities over police shootings of minorities and to salvage his legacy on race relations.

Facing accusations that his sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged attacks on police, Mr. Obama issued an appeal from Spain for protesters in the U.S. to refrain from violence.

“Whenever those of us who are concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system attack police officers, you are doing a disservice to the cause,” Mr. Obama told reporters before leaving Europe. “Any violence directed at police officers is a reprehensible crime and needs to be prosecuted.”

Mr. Obama will travel Tuesday to Dallas to speak at a memorial service for the officers who were ambushed last week by a black sniper who told police he wanted to kill white police officers. At the invitation of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, the president will speak at an interfaith memorial service at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the White House said.

The president said he intends to “convey our condolences and show our solidarity” with the city.

Former President George W. Bush also will speak at the service.

The change in the president’s schedule conveyed a sense of urgency at the White House to return the administration’s focus to a problem that has dogged Mr. Obama for more than two years.

Mr. Obama had arrived in Europe late last week, hoping to provide some stability for European leaders grappling with Britain’s exit from the European Union, Russia’s military aggression and a flood of refugees from the Middle East.

But he ended up rushing home to deal with fallout from the police murders in Dallas and a persistent, growing crisis over police practices in minority communities, with civil unrest flaring in several cities and resentment rising among law enforcement agencies who believe the administration isn’t supporting them.

On Saturday night, hundreds of protesters were arrested in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, near the scenes of shootings last week where police officers killed two black men. Twenty-one officers were injured by demonstrators in St. Paul.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said the president lacks sincerity when he speaks about the challenges faced by police, accusing Mr. Obama of “popping off at the mouth again” and exploiting the police shootings of the black civilians in Louisiana and Minnesota.

“He has no foundation for that,” Mr. Clarke said Friday. “There’s no data or research that suggests or proves anything he thinks in terms of disparity.”

William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, has accused Mr. Obama of waging a “war on cops,” saying the administration’s appeasement of violent criminals and Black Lives Matter protesters “has led directly to the climate that has made Dallas possible.”

Rep. Roger Williams, Texas Republican, said “the spread of misinformation and constant instigation by prominent leaders, including our president, have contributed to the modern-day hostility we are witnessing between the police and those they serve.”

“As a result, today we are seeing one of the noblest professions condemned by those who could benefit the most,” Mr. Williams said.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson defended the president Sunday, saying “we absolutely reject any such notion” that the administration has fomented anger at police. He said the federal government has deepened its cooperation with police under Mr. Obama through grants for equipment and other programs.

“Over the last seven and a half years, and during the time I have been secretary, we have enhanced our cooperation with local and state law enforcement to share information about what we see on a federal level,” Mr. Johnson told Jake Tapper on CNN. “And at a time like this, it’s our administration standing today with the police department, with the law enforcement community across this country, to say we mourn the loss of five brave heroes in Dallas, and we’re going to keep working together at this.”

When Black Lives Matter protests erupted two years ago after the police shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Mr. Obama eventually responded by convening a task force to offer recommendations for greater sensitivity and communication between police and minority communities. The president also criticized police departments for using military equipment such as armored trucks to confront protesters, saying it escalated tensions.

As the nation’s first black president and the son of a white mother, Mr. Obama sometimes describes himself as being uniquely positioned to foster dialogue and understanding on matters of race. He said this weekend that he “has tried to get all of us as Americans to understand the difficult legacy of race; to encourage people to listen to each other.”

In his first term, he hosted a photo-op “beer summit” at the White House with black Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates and a white Boston police officer who had arrested Mr. Gates at his own home, prompting accusations of racial profiling.

Mr. Obama also has volunteered his views on shootings that have stoked racial tensions, such as the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. And he has described incidents in which he believed he was being racially profiled before he was elected president.

As he returned to the U.S. to deal with the resurgence of strained race relations, the president said he hopes to provide a calming perspective.

“There is sorrow, there is anger, there is confusion about next steps,” Mr. Obama said. “But 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 will revive his task force on community this week, inviting police, activists and civil rights leaders to the White House for a meeting.

“I want to start moving on constructive actions that are actually going to make a difference, because that is what all Americans want,” Mr. Obama said.

He also called on Black Lives Matter protesters to be more “thoughtful” in their rhetoric against the police.

“If we paint police [with a] broad brush without recognizing that the vast majority of police officers are doing a really good job and are trying to protect people and do so fairly if the rhetoric does not recognize that, then we’re going to lose allies in the reform cause,” Mr. Obama said.

As anti-police demonstrations roiled cities in the past week from New York to Atlanta to Phoenix, some Black Lives Matter protesters have chanted slogans such as, “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.” The president, who repeatedly has spoken out against police bias against minorities in his second term, again sided with the thrust of the movement Sunday and portrayed the protesters’ offensive rhetoric as the actions of a few.

“In a movement like Black Lives Matter, there are always going to be folks who say things that are stupid or imprudent or overgeneralized or harsh,” the president said. “I don’t think that you can hold well-meaning activists who are doing the right thing, peacefully protesting, responsible for everything that is uttered at a protest site.”

The president also has cited the shootings of the past week to renew his pitch for gun control, suggesting the shooting death of a black man by police in Minnesota was caused in part by the victim’s legal possession of a handgun, and that the Dallas tragedy was exacerbated by the gunman, Army veteran Micah X. Johnson, wielding an assault rifle.

He spoke sympathetically of police officers in “open carry” states, such as Texas, who have “very little margin of error” when deciding how to confront people on the street who could be armed.

“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.”

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