President Barack Obama on Sunday again urged Americans to unite around solutions to end a string of shootings after three Baton Rouge police officers were killed — and he warned the political convention season threatens to make racial tensions even worse.
After being criticized by some law enforcement officials and advocates in recent weeks, Obama said the country must be “loud and clear” that nothing justifies attacks on law enforcement officers. Such acts are an attack on the rule of law that he says makes American society possible.
He vowed to provide whatever federal assistance the already stretched Baton Rouge government and police department might need, and he promised “justice will be done.”
Three officers were killed, another is reportedly fighting for his life in a Louisiana hospital, and three more were wounded. One suspect was shot and killed by police.
[ GOP Delegation: Louisiana will ‘Stand United’ After Police Shooting
“This has happened far too often, and I’ve spent a lot of time with law enforcement this past week,” the president said, then noting his own dependence on Secret Service protection. “I’m surrounded by the best fo the best every single day. I know that whenever this happens … you feel it. I want you to know today is the respect and the gratitude for everything you do for us.”
The outgoing president seemed worried the political convention season could send tensions in some parts of the country over the brink.
He reminded the country that “we have our divisions,” and warned the Republican and Democratic conventions routinely produce “political rhetoric” that is “more overheated than usual.”
“And that’s why it’s so important that everyone, regardless of race or political party or profession, regardless of organizations you are a part of, everyone focus on words and actions that can unite this country, rather than divide it further,” said Obama, who in recent days has painted a dismal portrait of the state of relations between some black communities and some predominantly white police departments.
“We don’t need inflammatory rhetoric, we don’t need careless accusations to score political points or advance an agenda” during this week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland and next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. “We need to temper our words and open our hearts — all of us.”
The Baton Rouge shooting is but the latest in a growing list of violent incidents that heightened tensions between law enforcement and minority communities. This month, only 17-days-old, has seen black men killed by white police officers in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. Then a black Army veteran killed five cops in Dallas after a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.
Rep. Peter King said the events in Baton Rouge increase the security concerns at this week’s Republican National Convention. King, a member of the Homeland Security Committee and the Intelligence Committee, declined to discuss the partisan politics of the fatal shooting of the three police and wounding of three others. Donald Trump has made law and order a prominent part of his campaign message.
Speaking to a CQRC reporter in Cleveland, site of the convention, the New York Republican said the shootings ”Raise security issues here that face the convention itself.”
Protesters from left wing and right wing fringe groups plan to hold protests. Some, such as the New Black Panther Party, have asked to carry firearms. It could be a volatile mix, he said.
”There’s concern that what happened in Baton Rouge could have an impact here,” he said.
The shootings set off a new wave of racial tensions, which could only be intensified by the Sunday shooting. Local police are calling it an ambush, and have identified the dead suspect as 29-year-old Gavin Eugene Long of Missouri. They have not released his race.
Obama, at a Tuesday memorial service for the slain Dallas police officers, acknowledged his words have been “inadequate ” in ending the violence. Five days later, speaking yet again in the White House briefing room about a mass shooting, said all Americans have a stake in the ongoing violence that brings a number of hot-button issues to the fore: race relations, gun rights, policing tactics and reform, and mental health.
“It is up to all of us to make sure we are part of the solution and not part of the problem. As someone once wrote, ‘A bullet need only happen once. But for peace to work, we need to be reminded of its existence again and again and again,’” Obama said. “My fellow Americans, only we can prove through words and through deeds that we cannot be divided. And we’re going to have to keep on doing it again and again and again.”
Steven Komarow contributed .