The Killings that Put America on Edge

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Demola Ojo with agency reports

Events over the past week have put America in turmoil. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday witnessed killings in different parts of the country, eliciting outrage, shock and horror. It all started with the killing of two African American men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, in separate incidents.

Sterling was fatally shot Tuesday by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after officers responded to a 911 call about a man with a gun. Cellphone video of the incident shows officers restraining Sterling on the ground before firing at him.

Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, was shot in the chest and back by a Louisiana police officer outside a convenience store. Residents of Baton Rouge started protesting that night, and by Wednesday morning, the U.S. Justice Department had announced that it would conduct a civil rights investigation of Sterling’s death.

On Wednesday, Castile was fatally shot after police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis and St. Paul, stopped him for a broken taillight on his vehicle. His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was in the car with him and said Castile had informed police officers that he was legally carrying a weapon and was reaching for his wallet. Reynolds posted a video on Facebook of the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
According to Reynolds, the officer unleashed four to five shots, striking her boyfriend in the arm. “Stay with me,” she says to Castile. “Stay with me… We got pulled over for a busted taillight in the back.” The officer can be heard saying, “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand out.”

Reynolds, maintaining her composure, immediately corrects the patrolman, noting his directive to Castile to produce a driver’s license and vehicle registration. Growing in distress, but ever mindful of her duty to fully capture the incident, she later says, “Police shot him for no apparent reason… No reason at all.”
The recording continues as Reynolds and her daughter leave the car and are placed in the back of a squad car. About 200 people gathered outside the Minnesota Governor’s Residence in St. Paul on Thursday, protesting the fatal shooting. Thousands more have been reacting to these shootings on social media, with everything from grief to rage to fear.
Police said both men were armed at the time they were killed.

Revenge: Cops Killed
by Army Veteran
As the news of the Sterling and Castile’s deaths was still being digested, another shooting incident came up. This time though, it was the police on the receiving end. Five police officers were killed and seven others wounded in an ambush. It was the deadliest single incident for U.S. law enforcement since September 11, 2001. Two civilians were also hurt, the Dallas mayor’s office said.

The deadly gunfire erupted in Dallas after videos showing the two African-American men shot by the police in Louisiana and Minnesota spurred protests and debate over police use of force across the country.
The ambush started with gunshots that killed five officers and sent screaming crowds scrambling for cover. It ended when a Dallas police bomb squad robot killed a gunman after negotiations failed.
As officials condemned the attack, details emerged about the man who died after a lengthy standoff with police in a parking garage. Investigators identified the dead attacker as Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, of Mesquite, Texas, a military veteran who’d served in Afghanistan.

Johnson told police negotiators that he was upset about recent police shootings, that he wanted to kill white people — especially white officers — and that he acted alone. Investigators determined Johnson was “the lone shooter in this incident,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said, confirming what federal officials had told CNN.
“This was a mobile shooter who had written manifestos on how to shoot and move, shoot and move, and that’s what he did,” Rawlings said at a news conference. “As we’ve started to unravel this fishing knot, we’ve come to realize this shooting came from one building at different levels.”

Rawlings said investigators’ initial confusion about the number of shooters was partly because about 20 protesters wearing protective vests and carrying rifles scattered when the shooting started.
Dallas police Chief David Brown provided more details during a prayer rally Friday. “Through our investigation of some of the suspects, it’s revealed to us that this was a well-planned, well-thought-out, evil tragedy,” he said.
“We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was,” Brown said. “Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger. The suspect is deceased as a result of detonating the bomb.”

Johnson had no criminal record or known terror ties, a law enforcement official said.
He served in the U.S. Army Reserve from March 2009 to April 2015, training as a carpentry and masonry specialist, according to Pentagon records. Johnson was deployed for about seven months in Afghanistan, from late 2013, and received an honorable discharge. Johnson had at least two weapons with him — a rifle and a handgun.
Witnesses said protesters were marching peacefully in downtown Dallas when the gunfire started Thursday night.
The Rev. Jeff Hood, one of the protest organizers, said he saw two officers go down, then watched a sergeant running toward the gunfire.

“I ran the opposite direction. I was concerned about the 700 or 800 people behind me,” he said. “I was screaming, ‘Run! Run! Active shooter! Run!’ And I was trying to get folks out as fast as I could.”
Crowds ran into a parking garage, witnesses said, and spilled out after word spread a sniper was nearby. “Everyone was screaming, people were running,” said witness Clarissa Myles. “I saw at least probably 30 shots go off.”
The five slain officers were identified on Friday. Dallas Police Officers Lorne Ahrens, a 14-year veteran of the department, and Michael Smith, a 27-year veteran, were both killed, as well as Michael Krol Patrick Zamarripa and DART Police officer Brent Thompson.

Police have said at least 10 officers were shot by a sniper and one officer was shot in a shootout at the parking garage. It’s not clear where the 12th officer was shot.
A few of the wounded officers remain hospitalized, police said. Brown called for the community to support them. “We don’t feel much support most days. Let’s not make today most days,” Brown said. “Please, we need your support to be able to protect you from men like these, who carried out this tragic, tragic event.”

Related Shootings
While the Dallas shooting hugged the headlines, there were other “revenge” shootings; separate incidents of black men shooting at white police officers and citizens across the country.
A man accused of shooting indiscriminately at passing cars and police on a Tennessee highway on Thursday morning told investigators he was angry about police violence against African-Americans. One woman died and three others, including one police officer, were injured in the rampage.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a news release that initial conversations with the suspect, 37-year-old Lakeem Keon Scott, revealed he was troubled by several incidents across the US. Scott, who is black, was wounded in the shootout with police. He remains hospitalised and has not yet been charged. All those shot were white, police confirmed.
In another incident, a gunman in a passing vehicle opened fire on a police officer on patrol in Georgia in the early hours of Friday morning. He is expected to be charged with aggravated assault against the officer, authorities said. A suspect was apprehended after a short car chase and was in custody.
The shooting happened in Roswell, a city just north of Atlanta, only hours after the Dallas sniper attack and officers were already on edge, said local Detective Zachary Frommer.

In a separate incident in Georgia, a man phoned 911 to report a break-in, then ambushed and shot the officer who came to investigate. Stephen Paul Beck called the emergency services, saying that his car had been broken into on Friday morning. Officer Randall Hancock went to investigate and police say Beck shot at him as soon as he got out of his car.
He was hit twice in his protective vest and once underneath the vest in his abdomen in the shooting which took place in Valdosta, just north of the Georgia-Florida state line.

US Not Divided, Obama Says
However, American President Barack Obama yesterday rejected any notion that the past week’s stunning violence signals a return to racial brutality of a dark past, saying that as painful as the killings of police and black men were, “America is not as divided as some have suggested.”
Obama appealed to Americans not to be overwhelmed by fear of a return to 1960s-style chaos and to understand the progress that has been made in racial relations since that time.

“You’re not seeing riots and you’re not seeing police going after people who are protesting peacefully,” he said. “You’ve seen almost uniformly peaceful protests and you’ve seen, uniformly, police handling those protests with professionalism.”
Obama spoke at the conclusion of a NATO summit in Warsaw before leaving for Spain, part of a farewell trip to Europe he was cutting short by one day because of the developments at home.
The comments marked the third time in as many days that Obama has spoken, from a distance, about the incidents of the week.

Obama said the Dallas shooter, a black Army veteran who was later killed by police, was a “demented individual” who does not represent black Americans any more than a white man accused of killing blacks at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, represents whites.

In his news conference before departing Poland, Obama said that while “there is sorrow, there is anger, there is confusion” in the U.S., “there’s unity in recognizing that this is not how we want our communities to operate. This is not who we want to be as Americans and that serves as the basis for us being able to move forward in a constructive and positive way.”

The president said he planned to convene a White House meeting in coming days with police officers, community and civil rights activists and others to talk about next steps. He said the “empathy and understanding” that Americans have shown in responding to the events of the past few days, including Dallas police officers even as they came under attack, had given him hope.

But Obama, who has angered his political opponents after every deadly mass shooting by calling for tighter gun laws, made clear that he will continue to speak out about the need for such measures, which the Republican-controlled Congress has refused to go along with. He said the U.S. is unique among advanced countries in the scale of violence it experiences.
The president spoke sympathetically of police officers in gun-filled communities who have “very little margin of error” when deciding how to engage with people on the street who may well be armed, whether they mean harm or not. “Police have a really difficult time in communities where they know guns are everywhere,” he said.

“If you care about the safety of our police officers, then you can’t set aside the gun issue and pretend it’s irrelevant.” wCiting laws allowing the carrying of guns in Texas, he said that even some of the Dallas protesters who staged a peaceful rally before the sniper attack were armed. He also cited the presence of an apparently legally owned gun in the car where Castile was shot dead.

Obama also tried to calm public anxiety about personal safety, saying violent crime is actually down in the U.S. “So as tough, as hard, as depressing as the loss of life was this week, we’ve got a foundation to build on,” he said. “We just have to have confidence that we can build on those better angles of our nature.”