After assassination of police officers, Trump says the right thing

Last night, snipers killed five police officers and wounded seven others at an otherwise peaceful rally protesting recent police shootings. Not much is known about the attackers, but at a presser this morning, the Dallas police chief said one attacker had indicated during a standoff that “he said he was upset about the recent police shootings,” and that “the suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

Today Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton canceled their events, but Trump issued a measured statement this morning expressing condolences for the victims, and adding these remarks:

We must restore law and order. We must restore the confidence of our people to be safe and secure in their homes and on the street.

The senseless, tragic deaths of two motorists in Louisiana and Minnesota reminds us how much more needs to be done….Our nation has become too divided. Too many Americans feel like they’ve lost hope. Crime is harming too many citizens. Racial tensions have gotten worse, not better. This isn’t the American Dream we all want for our children.

This is a time, perhaps more than ever, for strong leadership, love and compassion. We will pull through these tragedies.

It’s interesting that Trump alluded to the need to do something about the recent police shooting deaths in Louisiana and Minnesota — meaning the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both black men — particularly in the context of his suggestion that we must restore law and order via strong leadership.

The implication appears to be that the restoration of law and order and confidence in our safety also requires addressing the use of deadly force by police, which has disproportionately targeted black people, meaning the confidence of communities in the police must also be restored.

President Obama was a bit more explicit on this point. He condemned the killing of the officers as a “vicious, calculated, and despicable attack,” and then added:

“If communities are mistrustful of the police, that makes those law enforcement offers who are doing a great job, who are doing the right thing, that makes their lives harder,” Obama said, insisting that recognizing problems within law enforcement doesn’t equate to being anti-police.

“When people say ‘black lives matter,’ it doesn’t mean that blue lives don’t matter,” Obama said, referring to police officers. “But right now, the data shows that black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents. There is a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens.”

In other words, acknowledging the racial dimension to the problem of police overuse of lethal force is not anti-cop, and indeed, it is a necessary precursor to healing the divisions between communities and police, which will make the jobs of the vast majority of law enforcement professionals who are doing great work easier.

Trump appears to agree, at least to some degree. While he made no mention of the racial dimension to police killings, he today acknowledged that restoring confidence in public safety also requires doing “more” in response to this week’s police killing of two black men.

And that’s good. We’ll be hearing a lot more about this, too, since all of these horrific events will thrust the debate over police and criminal justice reform into the forefront of the presidential race.

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