Dallas Shooting

Shootings Further Divide a Nation Torn Over Race. The New York Times

 A spray-painted mural on a building on Foster Drive in Baton Rouge, La., on Thursday, where Alton Sterling was shot to death by a police officer two days earlier. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

A spray-painted mural on a building on Foster Drive in Baton Rouge, La., on Thursday, where Alton Sterling was shot to death by a police officer two days earlier. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

NEW YORK TOMES NYTFirst came the cellphone video of an African-American man being fatally shot by a Louisiana police officer, and the astonishing live feed of a Minnesota woman narrating the police killing of her African-American boyfriend during a traffic stop. Then came the horrific live television coverage of police officers being gunned down by a sniper at a march protesting the police shootings.

And suddenly, the panoply of fears and resentments that have made this a foreboding summer had been brought into sharp relief.

Police accountability and racial bias have been at the center of the civic debate since August 2014, when a black teenager was killed by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. Mass murders in Newtown, Conn.; Charleston, S.C.; Orlando, Fla., and too many other locales have revived gun violence as a social issue and national shame. Both black anger at police killings and the boiling frustrations of some whites who feel they are ceding their long-held place in society have been constant undercurrents in politics since January and the Iowa presidential caucuses.

Now, in the space of three days, the killings of two black men by Louisiana and Minnesota police officers and the retaliatory murders of five Dallas officers, this time by a black Army veteran, have coalesced all those concerns into a single expression of national angst. In the midst of one of the most consequential presidential campaigns in memory, those convulsive events raised the prospect of still deeper divides in a country already torn by racial and ideological animus.

Since the Thursday night sniper attack the national conversation has swung between bitterness and despair over seemingly unbridgeable gulfs in society. The New York Post’s front page blared “CIVIL WAR.” The Drudge Report warned in a headline that “Black Lives Kill.” Some Minnesota protesters on Thursday night chanted, “Kill the police.”

Police officers and sociologists alike say that racial tension is approaching a point last seen during the street riots that swept urban American in the late 1960s when disturbances erupted in places like the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts and Detroit and Newark, during summers of deep discontent.

“Even in the 1960s and 1970s, when there was a lot of tension around policing and civil rights and the antiwar movement, we’d never seen anything like what happened in Dallas,” said Darrel W. Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and an instructor at the Public Safety Leadership Program in the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University.

Mr. Stephens and other police officials said that departments were increasingly schooling officers in ways to avoid and defuse violent encounters with minorities. But other experts said the parade of cellphone videos depicting shootings of black men have only reinforced African-Americans’ conviction that little has changed in six decades.

“There is a constant bombardment of images of brutality against African-Americans, and not just brutality, but state-sponsored brutality,” said Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center. This week’s videos, he said, were particularly devastating. “It’s visceral,” he said. “It hits you in the gut. It’s emotional and graphic, so it makes you feel worse.”

There are some parallels today to the 1960s. Those riots were largely touched off by violent encounters between blacks and the police. Scholars say and statistics show that attacks on police officers became an increasingly frequent African-American response to decades of inequality and mistreatment at that time.

The Kerner Commission, established by President Lyndon B. Johnson, reported in 1968 that “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate but unequal.” And a white backlash became a driving force in the presidential campaign that year that saw a tough-talking Republican, Richard M. Nixon, end eight years of Democratic rule.

Whether this week’s violence presages a repeat of that history is, of course, an unknown, as the nation’s first black president nears the end of two terms in office and the two political parties move toward their national conventions this month.

But racial tensions are clearly rising. A June survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 46 percent of whites surveyed thought that race relations were generally good, a sharp drop from the 66 percent who held that opinion in June 2009, shortly after Mr. Obama took office. For blacks, the corresponding decline — to 34 percent last month from 59 percent in 2009 — was even steeper.

The same Pew survey found that about three-quarters of African-Americans thought that blacks in their communities were treated less fairly by the police than were whites; a bare 35 percent of whites felt the same.

In the hours after the Dallas ambush, stunned officials and civic leaders pleaded for citizens to repair the rips in the nation’s social fabric.

“Our profession is hurting,” said the Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, who is African-American. “Dallas officers are hurting. We are heartbroken. There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city. All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens.”

The Rev. Bryan Carter echoed him at a Friday memorial service for the fallen officers, saying: “We refuse to hate each other. We commit to pray together.”

How the Dallas Shooting Unfolded:

President Obama, speaking on Friday from Warsaw, where he was attending a two-day NATO summit meeting, said of the police, “Today is a wrenching reminder of the sacrifices they make for us.” He called the attack a “vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement.”

In a presidential race in which racial and ethnic divisions have become an issue, both Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump canceled political events on Friday. Mr. Trump called the events in Texas “an attack on our country.”

“It is a coordinated, premeditated assault on the men and women who keep us safe,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “We must restore law and order.”

Mrs. Clinton wrote on Twitter on Friday, “I mourn for the officers shot while doing their sacred duty to protect peaceful protesters, for their families and all who serve with them.”

But on social media, there were salutes to the sniper, blame of the news media for dividing the nation, charges that black protesters had spread hysteria, calls for love, fear of civil war and laments that the country is headed toward an unbridgeable divide.

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Some activists said their movement would press on, demanding that the police be accountable. Aislinn Sol, a Black Lives Matter organizer in Chicago, said, “The disproportionate state-sponsored violence against African-Americans has not changed,” adding, “What we have seen is a change in the response.”

In interviews, a number of police officials said that they believed the only lasting solution to the violence and division was to end the glaring inequalities that fuel them, but that they saw little hope for that.

“We’re the most heavily armed violent society in the history of Western civilization and we dump this duty on 25-year-olds” in police departments, Ed Flynn, the police chief in Milwaukee, said in an interview before Thursday’s killings. “The problem for American policing is we’re learning the hard way that our political establishment finds it far easier to develop a constituency at the expense of our police than to solve these social problems.”

Perhaps it was Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch who captured the day’s mood. “This has been a week of profound grief and heartbreaking loss,” she said on Friday. “After the events of this week, Americans across our country are feeling a sense of helplessness, of uncertainty and of fear.”

“We must reject the easy impulses of bitterness and rancor,” she added, “and embrace the difficult work — but the important work, the vital work — of finding a path forward together.”

Here’s what we know about the shootings
in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minnesota »

Dallas Police Chief David Brown, a Reformer, Becomes Face of Nation’s Shock

 Police Chief David O. Brown of Dallas at a prayer vigil on Friday.

Police Chief David O. Brown of Dallas at a prayer vigil on Friday.

After the killings in Dallas, David O. Brown, the city’s police chief, became the face of the nation’s shock.

NEW YORK TOMES NYTAt multiple news conferences, he sorted through a jumble of reports, some of them wrong, as he narrated the standoff between his officers and the gunman. But he also offered simple, emotional words: “We’re hurting,” he said on Friday morning, in a moment of shared public grief.

His appearances may also have evoked a more personal grief. Just weeks after Chief Brown became the leader of the Dallas Police Department in 2010, his own son fatally shot a police officer and another man before being killed in a confrontation with the police.

“My family has not only lost a son, but a fellow police officer and a private citizen lost their lives at the hands of our son,” he said in a statement at the time. “That hurts so deeply I cannot adequately express the sadness I feel inside my heart.”

Since taking over the Dallas department, one of the nation’s largest, Chief Brown, 55, has earned a national reputation as a progressive leader whose top priority is improving relations and reducing distrust between the police department and the city’s minority residents. His efforts began long before 2014, when the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York made such initiatives a necessity for many police chiefs.

Chief Brown “has been doing this before he had to,” said Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy group. “He recognized what happened, what is going on in the country.”

Chief Brown, who is African-American and a fourth-generation Dallas native, joined the city’s police force in 1983. In a panel discussion with Mr. Wexler’s group in 2014, he said that his 30 years on the force as well as stories told by his grandparents had taught him how, in some neighborhoods, police abuses are remembered for decades.

In Dallas, he has invited public scrutiny as police chiefs in few other cities have. While other departments often try to delay the public identification of officers involved in shootings, his department often releases the names.

Chief Brown’s main push has been geared toward reducing the use of force by officers in encounters with citizens. And he has had some success. Still, though the overall number of police shootings appears to have dropped substantially on his watch, the circumstances of some — including the fatal shooting of a mentally-ill man holding a screwdriver last year — have continued to draw criticism.

Chief Brown has drawn attention for his willingness to question even the most basic tenets of policing — like chasing bad guys under any circumstance.

While some departments have put restrictions on car chases — which can end in fatal smash-ups — Chief Brown began to question whether officers should even give chase on foot in certain instances, said Mr. Wexler, whose organization assisted in the city’s search for a police chief in 2010. Chief Brown’s concern, Mr. Wexler said, was whether such chases increased the risk of shootings by the police.

“It’s ironic this madman would pick Dallas, one of the cities that is a leader in reducing officer-involved shootings,” Mr. Wexler said.

A press representative for the City of Dallas said Chief Brown was declining interview requests.

Yet Chief Brown’s efforts have left him as a somewhat embattled figure in Dallas. He has fought with the police union over his emphasis on so-called community policing — the use of less-confrontational enforcement strategies — and his willingness to fire officers, dozens of them, often publicly.

“Chief Brown thinks that we should clean our own house before we expect others to clean theirs,” said Don Stafford, a retired member of the department who was one of the first black police officers to rise high in the ranks.

Chief Brown has been grappling with some grim statistics this year. Crime has ticked up, with the governor offering to send in state troopers.

Criticism does not seem to easily faze him. “Chief Vindictive, yadda, yadda, yadda,” he said during an interview in February, dismissing his critics within the department. “I mean that’s the badge of honor right there.”

In the same interview, with the Dallas Observer, he said his goal of orienting the department toward community policing was “worth getting fired over.”

The Dallas department’s national reputation had long been shaped by the events of November 1963. After President Kennedy was assassinated, his killer was gunned down in the basement of Police Headquarters while in custody, under lax security.

“This happened in their town and then the guy gets killed in their police station,” Thomas A. Reppetto, a police historian, said in an interview. “It just destroyed the reputation of the department.”

Chief Brown’s efforts have raised the department’s profile while putting it at the forefront of a national debate over how the police can regain the trust of citizens.

In Thursday’s attack, the deadliest for law enforcement officers in America since Sept. 11, 2001, he saw further urgency in this debate.

“All I know is that this must stop — this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” he said on Friday.