It’s going to be long, hot summer, starting, as the Washington Post notes, with the second week in July:
The growing national divisions over law enforcement and race hardened further on Sunday as police and political leaders condemned the recent killings of five officers in Dallas. One chief referred to Black Lives Matter protesters as “criminals,” while a former D.C. law enforcement leader said the United States is “sitting on a powder keg.”
Even as people streamed into churches in Dallas and other cities and Americans tried to make sense of the past week of violence, demonstrations again were the order of the day.
Renewed protests over the latest fatal shootings of black men by police took place in Dallas, Baton Rouge, La., and the District, although they remained peaceful, unlike the unrest that erupted late Saturday.
The momentary truce in the nation’s political wars also ended. The White House announced that President Obama will travel to Dallas on Tuesday to speak at a memorial service for the slain officers, but some questioned why the nation’s first African American president was not also visiting Louisiana and Minnesota, where two black men were killed by police last week.
On the Republican side, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump edged away from his earlier calls for unity, blasting Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and tweeting that America is “a divided nation.”
Okay, Obama will go to Dallas, along with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – that’s three presidents – because that’s where the five dead cops are – but he won’t go to Louisiana or Minnesota, where the equally dead two black men are. And Donald Trump will now be arguing none of this would have happened if Obama hadn’t acted so damned black, rubbing it America’s face that he is a black man, sneering at everyone (white folks, presumably) and always favoring “his people” and thus dividing the nation. And half the black community is disgusted that Obama has spent almost every day of his presidency trying to be white, ignoring them, and now he’s doing it again. Obama can’t win, but he knew this going in and plows forward as best he can. Not everyone will be happy, and Trump is arguing it’s the same with Hillary – she sides with blacks over whites too – but of course she also divides the nation by playing the “woman card” – sneering at men. Will men put up with that? Real Men might not.
This is going to be unpleasant, but the issue of America’s threatened innate manliness is an issue for later, because this is about race:
“You can call it a powder keg,” Charles H. Ramsey, a former police chief in Washington and Philadelphia, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “You can say that we’re handling nitroglycerin. But obviously when you just look at what’s going on, we’re at a very critical point in the history of this country.”
More details also emerged Sunday about Micah Xavier Johnson, the gunman who shot 12 officers in Dallas on Thursday night before law enforcement detonated a bomb-equipped robot in the parking garage where he had fled. His rampage, during a Black Lives Matter protest, followed the police-shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., a St. Paul suburb.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown said Johnson appeared delusional, taunted police during a standoff by singing and “laughing at us” and wrote cryptic messages on a wall with his own blood. He also said Johnson was “determined to hurt more officers” and may have been planning a larger attack, citing evidence of bomb-making materials and a journal found in Johnson’s home in nearby Mesquite. …
The new information about Johnson’s behavior emerged after a tense Saturday night marked by the arrest of a prominent activist in the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in five cities nationwide that resulted in more than 200 arrests, according to activists and police.
That was more than unpleasant:
At least 100 of those arrests were in St. Paul after what police described as rioting that injured 21 officers. In Baton Rouge, Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson was released on bond Sunday after being charged with obstructing a highway during a protest there.
In an interview Sunday, Mckesson called his arrest “unlawful” and said: “The protesters were peaceful last night; the police were not.”
The fast-moving events left Louisiana’s Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) asking for prayers for his state and the country at a late-afternoon news conference.
And Obama has to balance it all:
“I think that the overwhelming majority of people who are involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, what they really want to see is a better relationship between police and the community,” Obama said at a news conference in Spain. At the same time, he added, “I would hope that police organizations are also respectful of the frustrations people in these communities feel and not just dismiss these protests and complaints.”
A senior administration official said the president feels he must reach out to law enforcement after voicing the anguish of many African Americans following the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota.
Obama “channeled a lot of frustration on behalf of the African American community, that not enough progress has been made” in curbing the excessive use of force, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House thinking.
But in at least one Dallas church, Obama’s planned trip triggered its own degree of frustration. “Mr President, I love you, I support you, I’ve defended you. But I need you to go to Minnesota,” the Rev. Frederick Haynes III said Sunday at Friendship-West Baptist Church in South Dallas. “Maybe if the same energy and love we bring when blue lives die, maybe if we bring that same attention, affection and love when black folk get killed in the hands of cops, maybe we’ll save a generation.”
There’s no winning, and there was this:
On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” two prominent figures from New York also expressed differing views. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) condemned the Black Lives Matter movement, which arose after the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
“When you say black lives matter, that’s inherently racist,” Giuliani said. ”Black lives matter. White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. That’s anti-American, and it’s racist.”
But New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, who once served as Giuliani’s police commissioner, sounded a conciliatory note. Noting that he has had nearly 600 meetings with community leaders and activists in recent years, Bratton said, “It’s been a time of healing.”
Those two worked together? How? And meanwhile in Baton Rouge:
Black Lives Matter activists worried that this swampy state capital with its history of slavery and civil rights struggle could be the next Ferguson, Mo. – another small U.S. city with a predominantly white police force ill-equipped or unwilling to respond to the grievances of black Americans, or deal with protests for better rights.
Reports from Friday and Saturday from reporters on the scene indicated as much. When protesters moved their demonstration to the street outside of police headquarters on Friday night, police met them in riot gear, pounding on shields with their batons to make a deafening and repetitive thud.
Police had no megaphone or bullhorn as they ordered protesters to stay on the grass and out of the street. Police arrested 31 people that night, nearly all of them after they stepped into the roadway and were rushed by police and dragged away to police wagons.
On Saturday night, the People’s New Black Panther Party, a radical Black Nationalist group, arrived, and police formed a human chain, pushing the crowd forward but with little instruction. An officer standing in the turret of an armored vehicle clutched a rifle.
It was just like Ferguson, a modern war zone, with armored vehicles and all the rest, although the troops “pounding on shields with their batons to make a deafening and repetitive thud” had a bit of the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae to it. Still, it looked like war, it smelled like war, it sounded like war, so that’s probably what it was.
That may be what some people want, as Slate’s Will Saletan explains here:
Hours after a sniper gunned down five law enforcement officers in Dallas – claiming, according to police, that “he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers” – no one was crowing louder than David Duke. “All I warned about, sorry to say, is now happening,” the former Klansman tweeted. “There is war against Whites in America. A war of hate, racism, and violence against us!” Duke circulated tweets by people who used the phrase “black lives matter” and celebrated the shootings. In a pitch to Donald Trump supporters, he added the hashtags #WarOnWhites, #ThanksObama, and #MakeAmericaGreatAgain.
David Duke is already where Donald Trump is headed, but Saletan argues there’s another way to see this:
This is the central thing to understand about what happened in Dallas: Black people who target whites are fundamentally allied with white people who target blacks. They’re on the same team: the race war team. It’s a lot like the global struggle over jihadism, in which Muslims who hate Christians collaborate, in effect, with Christians who hate Muslims. In the case of jihadism, the real struggle isn’t between two religions. It’s between people who want religious war and people who don’t. The same is true of race: Either you’re on the race war team, or you’re against it.
That would mean that all of this is about methodology – how to get what you want. Either war is the answer or it isn’t, and people have chosen sides on that:
The attack in Dallas – allegedly committed by Micah Johnson, a black man -comes barely a year after a white man, Dylann Roof, allegedly shot nine black people to death in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof told friends, and later police, that he wanted “to start a race war.” “He wanted it to be white with white, and black with black,” said a friend.
Roof’s manifesto echoed the ideas of Anders Behring Breivik, a white Christian nationalist who massacred 77 people in Norway five years ago. Breivik claimed to be defending “our people, our culture, Christendom and our nation.” He declared, “It is every European’s duty to defend their people and country against the ideology of genocide, conquest and destruction known as Islam.”
Nothing helps Roof, Breivik, Duke, and other white nationalists, more than hate crimes by the people they vilify – blacks and Muslims – against whites, Christians, and police officers. No crime justifies such collective vilification. But as a social dynamic, haters and killers on all sides work together, by stoking feelings of group victimization and group vengeance.
There is a lot of that going around:
This is the war Micah Johnson joined in Dallas on Thursday night. He didn’t join the side of black people, any more than Bin Laden or ISIS joined the side of Muslims. He joined the side of tribal enmity and vengeance. He joined the side of Dylann Roof, Anders Breivik, and David Duke.
This is going to be a long, hot summer, but Jamelle Bouie tells the story a different way:
The tragedies arrived in quick succession, and it’s worth dwelling for a moment on the details of each one. Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, was killed Tuesday in a confrontation with police outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. According to an anonymous 911 caller, Sterling was waving a gun (the convenience store owner disputes this). Upon arrival, officers confronted Sterling, used a stun gun, and tackled him to the ground. As they worked to restrain him, they found a gun in his pocket. Moments later, they opened fire. Sterling, who had appeared subdued, was dead.
In the aftermath, each player performed his role in the standard dramaturgy of these events. The police department placed its officers on administrative leave; the family expressed its heartache and called for justice; political leaders gave condolences and assured a fair investigation; the federal government announced its involvement; Hillary Clinton made a statement.
But just as we were grasping Sterling’s life and death – just as activists were mobilizing and journalists were analyzing – we were confronted with another incident. Another police killing. In this second video, Philando Castile is bleeding, slumped toward the woman recording the scene, Diamond Reynolds. Her 4-year-old daughter is in the backseat. A police officer is outside the car, aiming his gun at the man he has shot. As Reynolds says in her shockingly calm narration, Castile was her boyfriend. He had told the officer that he was carrying a gun and that he was reaching for his driver’s license and registration. It’s at this point the officer fired several times. “Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him,” Reynolds says. “You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”
The death of the five police officers in Dallas buried those details, but it all blends together:
The killings of Sterling and Castile are a stark reminder of deep racist inequality and of the degree to which police behave this way – relentlessly scrutinizing black Americans above all others – because that’s what the public wants. And the Dallas shootings provide another example of the terrible gun violence that seems to define modern American life. It was the whole American horror show, compressed into a few days.
There’s no context in which this string of violence wouldn’t have had a heavy impact on our politics. But in this particular year, it feels ominous. Just last month, we mourned the dozens killed in the hateful rampage through a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We’ve seen an upswing in prejudiced and exclusionary rhetoric, and we have a presidential candidate in Donald Trump who condones and encourages it, all for the sake of his accidental campaign for president. Accordingly, the barriers we’ve built to keep racism and violence out of politics are faltering, and the international picture – where once-entrenched arrangements crash against the rocks of anger and bigotry – only adds to our anxiety. Groups and individuals see opportunity in this, and they begin to stoke flames of racial hatred for their own gain. It feels, in a visceral way, as if we’re coming apart.
Bouie, however, sees some good:
For as little political movement as we’ve seen on questions of police violence and racial bias, there are signs that the broad public – the white public – is waking up to the problem. Conservative writers like Matt Lewis in the Daily Caller or Leon Wolf in RedState are conceding the pervasiveness of police brutality. Prominent Republicans such as Paul Ryan did the same, praising President Obama’s remarks and hailing peaceful protests. Even Newt Gingrich – who once called Obama a “food stamp president” – agreed. “It’s more dangerous to be black in America,” he said. “You’re substantially more likely to be in a situation where police don’t respect you.”
But there’s this too:
It’s too much to say that there’s unity in American life. Nationally, police officers are killing people as often as they were before Ferguson, Missouri, put the issue on the map. It’s not enough to acknowledge problems of police violence; Americans – and white Americans in particular – have to agree to end it, which means jettisoning views that equate crime with blackness and rethinking the role of police writ large. We are still at a deep impasse on the question of guns and what to do about the violence at the heart of our society. And there is the Trump phenomenon to be reckoned with. It’s still true that his campaign is a vector for racism and anti-Semitism, still true that he has proposed plans that would target racial and religious minorities, still true that he has awoken and validated an ugly nativism across the country.
But there’s this too:
The events of the past week – and perhaps the shared sense that we’re on a brink of some sort – have inspired a basic decorum. Black Lives Matter has fiercely condemned the violence in Dallas, and beyond the right-wing fever swamps, there’s no apparent effort to cast blame on the movement against police brutality. At the risk of indulging the soft bigotry of low expectations, this week has revealed the strength of American society at the same time it has exposed its most fragile parts.
That doesn’t mean we can’t break apart. But it does mean that enough of us, for now, agree that there is still something here worth holding together.
Do enough of us agree on that? The New York Times’ Frank Bruni wonders about that:
All of us want the same thing: for the killing to cease and for every American to feel respected and safe.
We have disagreements about how to get there, but they don’t warrant the inflammatory headlines that appeared on the front of The New York Post (“Civil War”) or at the top of The Drudge Report (“Black Lives Kill”). They needn’t become hardened battle lines.
“We have devolved into some separatism and we’ve taken our corners,” Malik Aziz, the deputy chief of police in Dallas, said in an interview with CNN on Friday. “Days like yesterday or the day before – they shouldn’t happen. But when they do, let’s be human beings. Let’s be honorable men and women and sit down at a table and say, ‘How can we not let this happen again?’ and be sincere in our hearts.”
“We’re failing at that on all sides,” he concluded, expressing a sentiment uttered by public officials, black and white, Democrat and Republican, in laments that drew on the same vocabulary.
Separate, divided: I kept hearing those words and their variants, a report card for America as damning as it was inarguable.
Separate, divided: I kept seeing that in pundits who talked past and over one another, in a din that’s becoming harder and harder to bear.
Separate, divided: I kept thinking of Donald Trump and how he in particular preys on our estrangement and deepens it.
Bruni is not hopeful:
Hillary Clinton wrestled with that confusion in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, stressing, “We can’t be engaging in hateful rhetoric.” Asked if and why she’d be better at dealing with race relations than Donald Trump would, she declined to disparage him. This wasn’t the moment for that.
We can’t keep falling into the same old traps. We can’t keep making hasty conclusions, faulty connections. Predictably, there was a recurrence of talk after the killings of five police officers in Dallas late Thursday night that this was the fruit and fault of the Black Lives Matter movement and that cries of police misconduct equal a bounty on police lives.
That was a willfully selective interpretation of events. It ignored an emerging profile of the suspected gunman as someone who acted alone, not as the emissary of any aggrieved group.
It ignored how peacefully the protest in Dallas began and how calmly it proceeded up until shots rang out. Black and white stood together. Civilians and cops stood together. Those cops were there precisely because they’d been briefed on the demonstration and brought into its planning. They were a collaborative presence, not an enemy one.
“We had police officers taking pictures with protesters, protecting them, guarding them, making sure they was getting from one point to another,” Aziz recalled.
And their instincts amid the gunfire weren’t to flee for cover but to run toward its source and to hurry demonstrators out of the way. If we don’t pay full tribute to that, we’ll never get the full accountability from police officers that we also need, and we’ll never be able to address the urgent, legitimate demands at the heart of the Dallas demonstration and others like it.
Will we pay full tribute to that? That doesn’t sell copy, as they say. It doesn’t sell page views and thirty-second spots on CNN and MSNBC and Fox News. That’s reporting on nothing really happening, which is a wonderful thing in this case, but essentially static. Intense dynamic conflict sells copy. That copy then, in turn, generates more conflict. That further conflict then sells more copy, and so forth and so on.
What next? No one really knows, but it’s going to be a long, hot summer. Something will explode.