- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2016

President Obama injected himself Thursday night into the fatal police shootings of two black men, saying “all Americans should be troubled” by the incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota.

“We have seen tragedies like this too many times,” Mr. Obama said from a hotel in Warsaw, Poland, where he arrived after midnight local time. “These are not isolated incidents. They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”

The president changed his international schedule to add his views on the domestic shootings. He said he wasn’t prejudging the outcomes of investigations, but his comments left no doubt that he viewed the latest police shootings as unjustifiable.

“African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over,” Mr. Obama said. “Last year, African-Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rates of whites.”

Alton Sterling, 37, was shot to death by an officer outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he was selling CDs early Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation into Mr. Sterling’s shooting, which took place after he scuffled with two white police officers outside a convenience store.

Baton Rouge police say Mr. Sterling was armed.

Philando Castile, 32, died after being shot four times by an officer in a suburb of Minneapolis on Wednesday night during a traffic stop. His girlfriend videotaped him bleeding to death next to her in their car.

In the video, Diamond Reynolds describes being pulled over for a “busted tail light” and says her boyfriend had told the officer he was carrying a gun for which he was licensed.

Ms. Reynolds said Thursday that he was killed even though he complied with the officer’s instructions. She told reporters that Mr. Castile, a well-liked 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor at a Montessori school, did “nothing but what the police officer asked of us, which was to put your hands in the air and get your license and registration.”

On the video, the officer tells her to keep her hands up and says: “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand out.”

“You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir,” the woman responds.

The video goes on to show the woman exiting the car and being handcuffed. A young girl can be seen and is heard saying at one point, “I’m scared, Mommy.”

Police did not release any details about the officer who fired except to say he had been placed on paid administrative leave. Ms. Reynolds described him as Asian.

Within hours of the gory video going viral, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton was pressing for the Justice Department to investigate that shooting too, while opining that the shooting was racially-motivated.

“Nobody should be shot and killed in Minnesota for a tail light being out of function,” he said. “Would this have happened if those passengers would have been white? I don’t think it would have.”

Thousands of Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched through the rain in lower Manhattan on Thursday from Union Square and paralyzed one of the nation’s most iconic neighborhoods.

According to videos posted by the group Millions March NYC, chunks of Fifth and Sixth Avenues had been shut down by protesters “demanding an end to racist police murder” and Times Square had been “overrun and shut down.”

“Hey hey / Ho ho / These racist cops have got to go,” was one chant ringing out from the demonstrators.

There were other marches in Chicago and Minneapolis, with more planned throughout the night.

A presidential aide said Mr. Obama is “deeply disturbed” by both shootings and is following the reports closely.

The president, who flew all day from Washington to Poland, said he decided to comment on TV “given the extraordinary interest” in the shootings in the U.S. He has spoken out increasingly about police shootings in his second term, and convened a task force last year to devise solutions to help law enforcement agencies in minority communities to rebuild trust.

Despite his trans-Atlantic venting about biased police practices, the president said he believes most police officers “have a tough job.”

“To be concerned about these issues is not to be against law enforcement,” Mr. Obama said. “There are biases … that have to be rooted out. That’s not an attack on law enforcement.”

Victor Morton contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports from Louisiana and Minnesota.

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