US not as divided as feared, Obama says after Dallas as protests continue

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jul 10, 2016 22:06 IST
Parishioners of First Baptist Church greet a Dallas police officer as they gathered on Sunday to pray for the five police officers killed on July 7. (AFP)

US President Barack Obama has sought to reassure a nation rocked by racial tensions and violence in the past week, saying it may not be as divided as many would believe.

“As painful as the week has been, I fully believe that America is not as divided as people have suggested,” Obama said at a news conference wrapping up his NATO summit visit in Warsaw.

Americans “of all races and all backgrounds” are “outraged and angered” by the attacks on the police in Dallas and the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, he added.

The killings of black men Sterling and Castile last week had led to countrywide protests at one of which, in Dallas, African American Micah Johnson killed five white police officers.

Obama, who is cutting short his travels to visit Dallas, sought to frame the shooting in the context of previous such mass shootings, specially those during his tenure.

He portrayed Johnson as an outlier who was just as unrepresentative of blacks as Charleston shooter Dylann Roof was of whites, and Orlando’s Omar Mateen was of Muslims.

“They don't speak for us,” Obama said. “That's not who we are.”

Protests and demonstrations continued across the country unaffected by the tragedy in Dallas and were marked by stray incidents of violence and arrests of scores of rights activists.

Five police officers were injured in St Paul, Minnesota, where Castile was killed by a police officer during a trap check last Wednesday, and dozens of protestors were arrested.

As estimated 30 people were arrested in Baton Rouge, capital of Louisiana where Sterling was fatally shot last Monday by two police officers while trying to arrest him.

Baton Rouge’s Marie Flowers, who brought her three children to the protests, told AP, “Black boys are being killed and this is just the culmination of what has been going on for decades.”

However, the lawyer of the police officer who killed Castile in Minnesota said his client was not motivated by racial consideration, but the fact that the African American was carrying a gun.

“This is a tragic incident brought about by the officer having to react to the actions taken by Mr. Castile," Thomas Kelly, representing officer Jeronimo Yanez, said in a statement.

“This case has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the presence of a gun. Again, it has nothing to do with race, it has everything to do with the presence of a gun.”

Castile’s girlfriend, who was with him in the car with her four-year-old daughter, has said he was only trying to reach for his ID and had told the officer he had a license to carry a weapon.

A live stream of the aftermath of the shooting by the girlfriend went viral online and on television news channels, adding to the outrage sparked around the country by the killings.

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