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‘Open your hearts,’ President Barack Obama tells Americans
By Charlene Muhammad, Contributing Writer
Published July 13, 2016
AP Photo Collage created by Brian W. Carter

AP Photo Collage created by Brian W. Carter

“Open your hearts,” and find the will to make change, President Barack Obama told Americans during his remarks at an interfaith memorial service for five officers gunned down in the aftermath of police fatal shootings of two Black men last week.

Obama spoke at the funerals of Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson, Officer Michael Krol, Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, Sgt. Michael Smith, and Officer Patrick Zamarripa at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Farmers Branch in Dallas, Tx.

According to police, they were struck down July 7 in Dallas, Tx., when Micah Xavier Johnson, an ex-military, trained sniper, allegedly ambushed them during a downtown protest.

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Obama said the violence has left all deeply wounded and hurt. “It’s as if the deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened,” he said.

“And although we know that such divisions are not new, though they’ve surely been worse than even the recent past, that offers us little comfort,” Obama said.

He said police officers who do their jobs are deserving of respect, not scorn. He also said centuries of racial discrimination of slavery, subjugation and Jim Crow did not simply vanish with the end of lawful segregation. And, he noted that people are mourning the lives of the officers as well as Black men killed by law enforcement.

Those that deny that race relations have improved dramatically in his lifetime, Obama said, are dishonoring the struggles of those that sacrificed and forged such progress.

He stated, “But America, we know that bias remains. We know it!”

Alton Sterling AP Photo

Alton Sterling AP Photo

“When African-Americans from all walks of life, from different communities across the country voice a growing despair over what they perceive to be unequal treatment, when study after study shows that Whites and people of color experience the criminal justice system differently … more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protests as trouble makers or paranoid,” Obama said.

On and in days before the officers’ memorial in Dallas, protests across the country continued. The demonstrations stemmed from the police killings of two Black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.

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The chain of events began after videos spread showing the July 5 officer-involved-shooting of Black father Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La. and the aftermath of the July 6 police shooting of Philando Castile in the Falcon Heights suburb of MN.

Sterling was selling CDs outside a convenience store. According to police, they got a call indicating he had threatened someone with a gun. He was shot six times.

Officers claimed Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket. Police watch activists have argued video footage shows officers had both of Sterling’s hands pinned and stretched out when they shot him.

Sadness and anger escalated as people watched Sterling’s 15-year-old son break down in grief during a press conference while his mother called for justice. “I want my daddy. I want my daddy,” the teen wailed as he sobbed uncontrollably.

Philando Castile AP Photo

Philando Castile AP Photo

Castile was driving with his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter, when police pulled him over for a broken tail light. According to Reynolds, he was shot several times after reaching for his wallet in an effort to comply with the officer’s direct orders.

Reynolds’ live streamed details of what happened after he was shot. The raw emotion of her blow-by-blow account and her daughter’s words of consolation during the live stream brought many to tears, and action. “It’s okay, Mommy…It’s okay, I’m right here with you,” the child assured.

AP Photo

AP Photo

Demonstrators took to the streets in major cities, including Baton Rouge, Atlanta, Oakland, and right here in L.A., when more than 2,000 Black Lives Matter protestors rallied in Inglewood, then shut down the 405 Freeway.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) responded to the shootings, “While additional details of both tragedies are still coming to light, one thing remains certain, neither man deserved to die. There is no conceivable explanation for these murders or the exhaustive list of similar killings of black men and women who have died at the hands of police, past and present,” she said in a written statement.

She stated, “These horrific attacks and their viral images dismantle the African American community’s ability to feel safe in this country. They fill our bodies with pain. The aftermath of each tragedy is emotionally draining as we mourn the loss of a life violently taken by those who we have empowered to protect us.”

AP Photo

AP Photo

Black law enforcement also responded. When a questionable shooting occurs to Blacks throughout America, they also feel the pain, said Damon K. Jones, New York representative for Blacks in Law Enforcement of America.

“As Black Law Enforcement, we are three degrees of separation when controversial police shootings happen. In many cases, we know the victim, the victim is a family member, or we are the victims,” Damon said in a written statement.

He noted to date, police have killed 561 people, and the majority of the dead are people of color.

“What is discouraging is that the media, community leaders, and our elected officials always ignore a genuine cause of police violence against Black people that is institutional racism in Law Enforcement and economic prejudice,” Damon said.

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