- Letter to law enforcement follows deaths of 3 Baton Rouge cops
- President under criticism by Republicans, some police leaders
President Barack Obama promised to spend the rest of his presidency looking for ways to protect police officers and address tensions between law enforcement and minorities, issues at the top of his agenda after a series of deadly incidents rattled the nation’s sense of security.
“There is no contradiction between us protecting our officers, honoring our officers, making sure that they have all the tools they need to do their job safely, and building trust between police officers and departments and the communities they serve,” he said Tuesday after meeting in the Oval Office with top federal law enforcement officials. “Those things are complementary, and not contradictory.”
The meeting with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson came hours after Obama published an open letter to U.S. law enforcement seeking to counter criticism that he’s indifferent to the plight of police amid tensions with minority communities. His comments and letter follow the killing of three police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 17.
“As we bind up our wounds, we must come together to ensure that those who try to divide us do not succeed,” Obama said in the letter, which was released on Twitter by the National Fraternal Order of Police. “Thank you for your courageous service. We have your backs.”
Criticism in Cleveland
Obama’s letter and Oval Office meeting follow criticism of his support for police on Monday at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where the first day’s theme was “make America safe again.” Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke spoke at the convention and said in an interview Monday with CNN that he had predicted the violence against police that has gripped the U.S. this month. He said he blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for inspiring it.
“This anti-police rhetoric sweeping the country has turned out some hateful things inside of people that are now playing themselves out on the American police officer,” Clarke, who is black, told CNN.
Clarke’s remarks echoed criticism from Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick during a July 14 town hall in Washington with Obama to discuss racial tensions. At the event, hosted by ABC News, Patrick faulted the Black Lives Matter movement and asked Obama whether he was doing everything he could to protect police following the July 7 slayings of five officers by a gunman in Dallas.
Obama testily replied to Patrick, saying he values the lives of law enforcement officers and respects their work. “This isn’t a matter of us versus them,” Obama said.
Obama has also spoken out about police-involved shooting deaths of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota this month after encounters for perceived or minor infractions between the victims and police. He has repeatedly criticized the racial disparity between white people and minorities in the U.S. for traffic stops and incarceration.
‘Bonds of Trust’
After his meeting with Lynch, Comey and Johnson, Obama said he would be consulting with police departments and Congress to figure out ways to provide law enforcement with additional support.
“We’re going to have to do more,” he said, referencing a lack of bulletproof vests and tactical training at some departments as one potential area of improvement. “My intention over the next several months, as long as I’m in this office, is to continue to look at best practices to figure out what’s working well.”
The Obama administration has rejected calls from some law enforcement groups to illuminate the White House in blue in solidarity with the Blue Lives Matter movement to support police, whose uniforms are often blue.
In his letter, Obama highlighted the officers who have been ambushed and killed this month in Dallas and Baton Rouge, saying the victims exemplified the important work done by police.
“Some are trying to use this moment to divide police and the communities you serve. I reject those efforts, for they do not reflect the reality of our nation,” he said. “Any attack on police is an unjustified attack on all of us.”