Ambush In Dallas Shakes The Movement For Police Reform

Jul 9, 2016
Originally published on July 18, 2016 7:34 am

Investigators say a young African-American man named Micah Xavier Johnson was the sole attacker in Dallas Thursday night, when he shot 12 police officers, killing five. The attack came at the end of an otherwise peaceful march protesting police shootings.

Speaking from Poland, where he'd been attending a NATO summit, President Obama rejected the idea that the attack was a sign of division in American society.

"Americans of all races and all backgrounds are rightly outraged by the inexcusable attacks on police, whether it's in Dallas or anyplace else," Obama said. "That includes protestors."

But other politicians say the attack is connected to the growing tide of activism over controversial shootings by police. Iowa Rep. Steve King tweeted, "#DallasPoliceShooting has roots in first of anti-white/cop events illuminated by Obama...Officer Crowley. There were others."

That's a reference to Sgt. James Crowley, the Cambridge, Mass., policeman whose controversial arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. in 2009 caused President Obama to hold the so-called "beer summit." Some conservatives see that incident as the start of a campaign to undermine respect for law enforcement.

Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who chairs the Police Accountability Task Force in Chicago, says she and other reformers have a "heavy heart" over the attack in Dallas. But she doesn't think it lessens the need for change. In Chicago, she says, there needs to be better tracking of police conduct, better training and what she calls a "process of reconciliation."

"There are people who are very traumatized by their experiences with the police," she says. "And in order for the police I think to be able to effectively do their job, we've got to bridge the divide between the police and the community."

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Now here's NPR's Martin Kaste who says the deaths in Dallas complicate efforts for those pushing for police reform.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Outside Dallas Police headquarters today, two parked squad cars have become completely covered with balloons and flowers. People come by to pay their respects and take pictures.



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh, wow, man.

KASTE: Nearby Dallas resident Angela George says it's been an emotional week, and she's not talking just about what happened here in her city.

ANGELA GEORGE: It's just it's shocking, and I just - the thing that keeps resonating with me is that you can't fight violence with violence. And it just blows my mind that it's come to this.

KASTE: But further away from this quiet memorial, there's anger. There's a sense of eroding respect for law enforcement. Here's Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick on Fox News yesterday.


DAN PATRICK: And I do blame people on social media with their hatred towards police. I do blame former Black Lives Matter protests. Last night was peaceful, but others have not been, and we've heard the pigs in a blanket. This has to stop.

KASTE: There's no indication that the attacker was actually part of Black Lives Matter, but nationally the police reform camp knows that this makes things harder for them. Lori Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor who works on this issue in Chicago.

LORI LIGHTFOOT: We all have a heavy heart. I mean, the absolute senseless, horrible killing of police officers who were protecting and creating a safe space for peaceful protest. It's beyond horrifying.

KASTE: But she says that doesn't diminish the need for change. She and others in Chicago are pressing for better tracking of police conduct and better intervention and training. She thinks there also needs to be what she calls a process of reconciliation.

LIGHTFOOT: There are people who are very traumatized by their experiences with the police. And in order for the police, I think, to be able to effectively do their job, we've got to bridge the divide between the police and the community.

KASTE: In his remarks earlier today, President Obama said he wanted to, quote, "start moving on constructive actions that are actually going to make a difference." And he said next week he'd bring back to the White House the task force that he'd set up in 2014 after Ferguson.

But task forces and reconciliation processes don't impress Jim Pasco.

JIM PASCO: We're way past the time for platitudes.

KASTE: He's the head of the National Fraternal Order of Police. The way he sees it, the real problem is that police are getting the blame for deeper problems such as poverty.

PASCO: They're seen as the personification of the authority which has screwed people for generations. And it's not the officer on the beat's fault. It's not the sergeant's fault and on up the line. When you get to the mayor, you start finding the people at fault and move on up from there.

KASTE: In his remarks from Poland, the president's analysis focused on a different factor.


BARACK OBAMA: Police have a really difficult time in communities where they know guns are everywhere.

KASTE: Obama has talked about guns before, of course, but today, he made a point of linking them to the grief in Dallas.


OBAMA: So if you care about the safety of our police officers, then you can't set aside the gun issue and pretend that that's irrelevant.

KASTE: There was a time when police would have welcomed this argument, but polls show diminishing support for gun control among the new generation of officers. And, as Jim Pasco, says with 300 million or so guns already out there, the horse is out of the barn on that. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.