US race relations worst in decades after police killings and protests

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Updated: Jul 18, 2016 23:52 IST
Officers march down a street during protests in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, US. (Reuters)

The US was on edge going into the Republican National Convention on Monday after the shooting of three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by an African American former marine.

Security was at an unprecedented level around the venue in view of the kind of violence that has rocked the country in recent weeks, from terrorism to race-related attacks.

Protestors have been arriving here from around the country, and, adding to security concerns, some of them have said they intend to carry weapons in self-defence.

Read: Baton Rouge shooting: Gunman who killed 3 cops was an ex-US Marine

After the shootings in Baton Rouge on Sunday, a Cleveland police officers’ union has sought a temporary suspension for a week of the open-carry right to carry weapons.

Three police officers were killed in Baton Rouge by Gavin Long, a black former marine, who had spoken of African Americans killed by police and the need to fight back.

In a video post online, Long had defended the killing of five police officers by Micah Johnson in Dallas, Texas last week, saying, “It’s justice. You know what I’m saying.”

Long also spoke of Alton Sterling, a black man killed by police officers in Baton Rouge on July 5, which together with the death of a black man in Minnesota led to countrywide protests.

Race relations in the US have come under a tremendous strain since, with President Barack Obama repeatedly calling for the nation to look at things that unite it, than those which divide it.

On Sunday, the president renewed his call for unity, saying “everyone right now (needs to) focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further”.

Read: Obama denounces Baton Rouge police shooting as ‘work of cowards’

In Dallas, last week, Obama had sought an end to violence against law enforcement officers and defended the right of protestors to be heard and not be dismissed as “troublemakers”.

But he also admonished activists of Black Lives Matter, an equal rights movement, for being too quick to condemn the police — “You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are, and you pretend as if there’s no context. These things we know to be true.”

Recent police killings and protests that inevitably followed have caused race relations to be at the worst in decades – nearly three-quarters of American believe it’s bad.

In a poll by NBC News/Wall Street Journal done after the Dallas killings but published on the day of the Baton Rough shootings, 74% of Americans said race relations were bad.

That was higher than 61% in the aftermath of a jury finding O J Simpson, the African American football star, innocent of charges of killing his white ex-wife and her boyfriend in 1995.

But the new poll also showed that while most Americans believe race relations will improve eventually – including 68% whites – only 46% African Americans said they were hopeful.

And of the two candidates, Hillary Clinton scored better than Donald Trump on who Americans said could deal better with relations between police and African Americans.

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