You are here

Obama urges Americans not to despair over divisions

39029860 - 10_07_2016 - US-CRIME-POLICE-SHOOTING.jpg
A woman holds a banner during a protest in support of the Black lives matter movement in New York on July 09, 2016. PHOTO:AFP

[DALLAS] President Barack Obama urged Americans on Saturday not to view the United States as being riven into opposing groups, seeking to soothe raw emotions after a former US soldier killed five policemen in Dallas and high-profile police shootings of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.

"First of all, as painful as this week has been, I firmly believe that America is not as divided as some have suggested,"Mr Obama, visiting Poland, told a news conference in Warsaw. "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," Mr Obama added. "You're not seeing riots, and you're not seeing police going after people who are protesting peacefully."

Authorities have named former US Army Reserve soldier Micah Johnson, a 25-year-old African-American, as the lone gunman in Thursday night's sniper attack in Dallas, which came at the end of a march by hundreds of demonstrations decrying the fatal shootings by police of black men earlier in the week.

Officials said Johnson had embraced militant black nationalism and expressed anger over shootings by police as well as a desire to "kill white people, especially white officers."

Dallas remained on edge on Saturday. The police headquarters and surrounding blocks were cordoned off and SWAT teams were deployed after police said they received an anonymous threat against officers across the city. The police said they searched a headquarters parking garage for a "suspicious person" but no suspect was found.

Thursday's rally in Dallas followed the fatal police shootings of Philando Castile, 32, near St. Paul, Minnesota, on Wednesday, and Alton Sterling, 37, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday.

Mr Obama, who is cutting short his European trip on Sunday to visit Dallas, said that "Americans of all races and all backgrounds are rightly outraged by the inexcusable attacks on police, whether it's in Dallas or any place else." He added they also are rightly saddened and angered about the deaths of Sterling and Castile, and about "the larger, persistent problem of African-Americans and Latinos being treated differently in our criminal justice system." Mr Obama, the first black US president whose term in office ends next January, said he hopes he has been able to get all Americans to understand the nation's difficult legacy of race.

Mr Obama said Americans cannot let the actions of a few define all. "The demented individual who carried out those attacks in Dallas - he's no more representative of African-Americans than the shooter in Charleston was representative of white Americans, or the shooter in Orlando or San Bernardino were representative of Muslim-Americans," Mr Obama added, referring to a string of mass shootings in the past year.

Seven other police officers and two civilians also were wounded in Dallas. Johnson was killed by a bomb-carrying robot deployed against him in a parking garage where he had holed up and refused to surrender during hours of negotiations with police, authorities said on Friday.

While Thursday's attack stunned Dallas into mourning, it did not stop demonstrations on Saturday against killings by police, with protesters blocking major roads in various cities.