Obama Decries Baton Rouge Killings of Police as Unrest Mounts

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President Barack Obama makes a statement at the White House in Washington on July 17, 2016.

Photographer: YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images
  • Three officers dead, three injured in Louisiana’s capital
  • President calls for toning down rhetoric at conventions

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke on Sunday to a nation shaken again by violence involving minority communities and law enforcement, warning against “inflammatory rhetoric” after the killing of of three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Nothing justifies violence against law enforcement,” Obama said at the White House. “Attacks on police are an attack on all of us, and on the rule of law that makes society possible.”

The president appeared after speaking by phone with Baton Rouge’s mayor and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who at an earlier press conference termed the events “an absolutely unspeakable, heinous attack.” Three other officers were wounded in Sunday’s attack, which occurred in the city where a black man was killed by police two weeks earlier, leading to ongoing protests.

Obama warned that the rhetoric over the next two weeks may be especially inflammatory as Republicans and Democrats gather for their respective national conventions.

“We’re about to enter a couple of weeks -- the conventions -- where our political rhetoric tends to be more overheated than usual,” Obama said. “We need to temper our words, and open our hearts -- all of us.”

Obama spoke following two weeks of rising tension caused by police shooting deaths of two black men and the subsequent fatal attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

‘Senseless Violence’

“There is no justification for violence, for hate, for attacks on men and women who put their lives on the line every day in service of our families and communities,” Obama said. “Only we can prove that we have the grace and the character and common humanity to end this senseless violence.”

Obama, the first black U.S. president, has grappled in his final year in office with at least a perceived increase in racial tension. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Saturday found pessimism about race relations in the U.S. is rising, with more than 60 percent of adults saying race relations are bad.

Baton Rouge was the site of the first in a series of recent violent encounters. Police there shot and killed Alton Sterling on July 5 when he was selling CDs outside a convenience store.

‘Ongoing Investigation’

Colonel Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, said Sunday’s shootings occurred around 8:40 a.m. local time, carried out by a man carrying a rifle. An “active, ongoing investigation is now under way with “many, many leads,” he said.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch pledged the full support of the Justice Department to investigate the latest shootings. In a statement she condemned the deaths of the three officers in “the strongest possible terms.”

Sunday’s events followed a mass shooting of police officers in Dallas by a shooter angry about the deaths of Sterling and another black man during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Obama since then has issued multiple calls for calm and reconciliation between police and minority communities.

‘Lack of Leadership’

The violence has roiled the U.S. presidential campaign. Republican Donald Trump has highlighted the turmoil, vowing to a law-and-order presidency, similar to the campaign theme used by Richard Nixon amid rioting in 1968.

“How many law enforcement and people have to die because of a lack of leadership in our country? We demand law and order,” Trump said on Facebook. “We are TRYING to fight ISIS, and now our own people are killing our police. Our country is divided and out of control. The world is watching!”

Democrat Hillary Clinton has called for national reconciliation and called Sunday’s shooting “an assault on all of us.”

“We must not turn our backs on each other. We must not be indifferent to each other. We must all stand together to reject violence and strengthen our communities,” Clinton said in a statement on Sunday.

U.S. police officers deserved “a commitment not to let others divide us,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement.

“It’s despicable,” Biden said of the Baton Rouge shootings. “It’s cowardly. And it’s an attack on our very way of life and rule of law.”

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