President Obama, addressing the tumult, anger and confusion at home, said in Warsaw, Poland, today that he was outraged by the sniper attacks on the Dallas police that left five officers dead and six wounded.
Obama’s remarks were brief, coming hours after the Dallas shootings and an earlier, emotional 16-minute speech that he delivered in response to the killings of black men by police in Falcon Heights, Minn., and Baton Rouge, La. The attacks in Dallas took place during a protest rally over the police shootings in other other cities, which have prompted a national outcry and reignited debate over race and law enforcement.
Obama, who is in Poland for a NATO summit, and said that he would have more to say after more is learned about the shooters and their “twisted motives.”
“We are horrified over these events and we stand united with the people and the police department in Dallas,” Obama said during an appearance before reporters with two European leaders. He called the murders “senseless” and pledged “justice will be done.”
The president’s remarks on the police shootings in Dallas were carried live on cable news channels that had been airing blanket coverage of the overnight attacks. Obama emphasized that he had spoken by phone with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and offered full federal assistance into the investigation, and he added that the FBI has been in touch with local officials. Three suspects are in custody, Dallas authorities said, and another is dead after an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after a standoff with police.
Aides said Obama had been briefed by senior advisers and he appeared grim as he addressed reporters in the same small meeting room at a hotel here where he talked late Thursday about the killings in Minnesota and Louisiana that generated protests across the nation. In those remarks Obama said he was “deeply troubled” by the deaths and called them “symptomatic” of a broader problem in the country.
After the Dallas shootings, Obama once again offered condolences to the families of the dead. He spoke generally of the need for reforms to America’s gun laws, which last month prompted sit-ins by Democratic lawmakers in the Congress demanding change.
“We also know when people are armed with powerful weapons it makes events like these more deadly and more tragic and we are going to have to consider those realities,” Obama said.
One of the most immediate questions for the president going forward will be whether he chooses to cancel his the second leg of his European trip, a two-day visit to Spain, that is scheduled to begin Saturday evening and is packed with largely ceremonial visits.
The president’s impulse in the past – especially in response to major terror attacks in the U.S. or Europe – has been to stick to his planned business as much as possible. He resisted calls from Republicans to cut short his visit to Cuba this spring after the Islamic State terror attacks in Brussels this spring. In 2014, following the beheading of journalist James Foley by Islamic State militants, Obama played golf; a move he later conceded was a mistake.
“I think everybody who knows me – including, I suspect, the press – understands that … you take this stuff in. And it’s serious business,” he said in an interview. “And you care about it deeply.”
The police shootings in Dallas and the shocking events in Minnesota and Louisiana present a very different dynamic. White House aides have said that canceling trips following terror attacks feeds the enemies’ narrative, makes them look more powerful and unnecessarily inflates the terror threat. So the impulse for Obama is always to carry on as much as possible with business and usual.
Obama made clear in the aftermath of the shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana that the country needed to focus more and move faster to curtail police violence against minorities. “This is not just a black issue. It’s not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about,” Obama said Friday night, just hours before the Dallas police shootings. “All fair-minded people should be concerned.”
Cutting short his trip to Spain would signal the importance that he places on the issue.
Obama’s initial remarks after the earlier shootings, which some interpreted as critical of police officers around the nation, could also increase pressure on him to demonstrate sympathy for the slain officers and their families.
“When people say “Black Lives Matter,” that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter,” Obama said referring to the Minnesota and Louisiana shootings. “It just means all lives matter, but right now the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents.”
The shootings in Dallas, which came less than 10 hours after his remarks, seemed to underscore the dangers facing police.
“To be concerned about these issues is not to be against law enforcement,” Obama said in his earlier remarks. He reiterated that point again on Saturday after the Dallas shootings, saying that police have “an extraordinarily difficult job and the vast majority of them do their job in an outstanding fashion.”
He called the shootings in Dallas “a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement.”
On Friday morning before his statement Obama sat a long table flanked by his national security adviser and his secretary of state for meetings with the head of the European Commission and the European Council.
It was one of a series of often stilted, occasionally productive bilateral meetings that are the bread and butter of big NATO summits like the one taking place in Warsaw Friday and Saturday. Obama did not speak to the press, but instead chatted quietly with the other senior officials at the table. After a minute or so the press was escorted out.
“The president has been updated on the shooting of police officers in Dallas,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement Friday morning. “He asked his team to keep him updated on the situation as they get additional information.”
But the scene in Warsaw and the topics being discussed were a long way from the shocking events taking place back home in Dallas, St. Paul and Baton Rouge.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Greg Jaffe