ABOVE PHOTO: NAACP President/CEO Cornell Brooks sent this historic photo with his statement on the police killings in Louisiana and Minnesota.
By Hazel Trice Edney
National outrage had just begun after the videotaped police killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. But the next day came the police killing of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., – live on Facebook. The back-to-back killings quickly too righteous indignation to decibel levels across the nation.
Then, amidst protests over the apparently callous shootings by police came the third blow – five police officers killed and nine wounded – shot down by a Black man – Micha Johnson, a military vetera – during a peaceful protest in Dallas.
These national tragedies – which quickly turned international as President Barack Obama spoke from Poland – has left America reeling this week.
In the wake of the shootings of Alton Sterling outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, La. and Philando Castile inside a car in Falcon Heights, Minn., nearly 2,000 arrests have been made during protests in cities across the nation against continued police violence against Blacks.
Tensions have skyrocketed for police officers now under threat of retaliation. Civil rights and church leaders have also risen up to not only speak to the unprecedented chain of events but to call for immediate and lasting change.
Officer Jeronimo Yanez who shot Sterling last week claimed through his lawyer that he thought Sterling was a robbery suspect. Castile, 32, was shot after he told the officer that he was licensed to carry a concealed weapon; then obeyed police commands by reaching for his wallet to show his driver’s license. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, videotaped Castile as he bled to death with her 4-year-old daughter in the back seat. Yanez is on administrative leave.
Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, involved in the shooting of Alton Sterling, have also been placed on administrative leave. They had responded to a 911 call from a homeless man, who said someone had waved a gun at him. The officers approached Sterling, who regularly sold CDs and DVDs in front of the store. The videotape shows the officers pulling Sterling to the ground and attempting to restrain him when one officer took out his gun and shot several times, killing the 37-year-old father of five.
The Department of Justice prepares to investigate both killings. Meanwhile, President Obama has sought to calm and console the nation in the midst of the chaos.
“We’ve seen activists and grassroots groups who have expressed concern about police shootings, but are also adamant in their support of the Dallas Police Department,” President Obama said during a press conference after the Nato Summit in Warsaw, Poland. He also praised Dallas for its successful police-community relations program that has become a model across the country.
That’s the spirit that we all need to embrace. That’s the spirit that I want to build on.”
President Obama announced that he will reconvene the task force that he set up after Ferguson, but will build it by “inviting both police and law enforcement and community activists and civil rights leaders” to the White House.
“I want to start moving on constructive actions that are actually going to make a difference, because that is what all Americans want,” he said.
Meanwhile the NAACP and other civil rights groups took to social media and other airwaves. NAACP President/CEO Cornell William Brooks issued a statement describing the killings of Castile and Sterling as lynching.
“There was a 21st century lynching yesterday. And the day before that, too,” he wrote July 8. “Activists created the NAACP more than a century ago to fight racialized violence. Then, we called it ‘lynching.’ Today, we call it ‘police brutality,’ but the effect is still the same — our lives are in danger. Endangered by some of the very people who are called to protect and serve us. We are all tense, angry, devastated, and grieving.”
Brooks continued, “We grieve for Alton Sterling. We grieve for Philando Castile. And we grieve with the rest of the country over the senseless loss of lives in Dallas, too — because the execution of police officers does not end the execution of black Americans, and it will not put us on the path to change.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the tragedies open new opportunities to intensify the addressing of issues that too often get dropped.
“The events of this past week underscore that violence disrupts the fabric of our nation. Now is the time for communities to work together to address systemic issues that plague our country – excessive use of force against African Americans, the proliferation of assault weapons, and hate,” she said in a statement.
According to the NAACP, those issues would be addressed by two policies that the civil rights group has been pushing.
“What will put us on the path to justice is the passage of the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act (LETIA) and the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA). Radical reform of policing practices, policies, and laws at all levels must be made — immediately — because the current system is taking too many lives,” Brooks said.
Micah Johnson, corned in a parking garage, was killed by Dallas police after he threatened to kill more officers. Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who is Black, approved the use of a robot carrying an explosive to kill Johnson. Brown later said the 25-year-old was carrying multiple high-powered guns, but no explosives. However additional arsonal was discovered in his home; including bomb-making materials, Brown said.
People of multiple races have shown up to protest in the wake of the latest police shooting of Black men. But Brooks said he takes no solace in the fact that “outrage over this 21st century form of lynching is not isolated to the black community.”
He said it is more necessary that unified action is taken by Americans of all races and ethnicities in order to “put an end to the epidemic of violence — gun violence in particular — in this country. Now is the time to come together as one in grief, in protest, and in pursuit of real, measurable change.”
Despite the widespread outrage, President Obama says race relations are not as bad as they appear.
“So when we start suggesting that somehow there’s this enormous polarization, and we’re back to the situation in the ‘60s – that’s just not true. You’re not seeing riots, and you’re not seeing police going after people who are protesting peacefully. You’ve seen almost uniformly peaceful protests. And you’ve seen uniformly police handling those protests with professionalism,” President Obama said.
He concluded, “And so, as tough, as hard, as depressing as the loss of life was this week, we’ve got a foundation to build on. We just have to have the confidence that we can build on those better angels of our nature. And we have to make sure that all of us step back, do some reflection, and make sure that the rhetoric that we engage in is constructive, and not destructive; that we’re not painting anybody with an overly broad brush; that we’re not constantly thinking the worst in other people rather than the best. If we do that, then I’m confident that we will continue to make progress.”