Thursday night in Dallas, as 800 people exercised their constitutional right to protest police shootings, police officers did their sworn duty: They made sure civilians were safe and ran toward danger.
By the time the gunfire was over, five officers were mortally wounded and seven others injured, just blocks from where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. They represent the best of the profession; the vast majority of officers do their jobs with honor, often with heroism.
The sniper, who officials say apparently acted alone, was killed in a standoff with police after reportedly telling them he wanted to kill officers, especially white ones.
America is reeling from yet more senseless violence, the deadliest incident for law enforcement since 9/11.
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The ambush happened at the end of one of several marches across America to protest the police killings this week of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. – among more than 500 already this year.
Just three hours before the Dallas shooting, President Barack Obama said the deaths of Sterling and Castile were symptomatic of racial bias in the criminal justice system. But he also made sure to point out “when people say black lives matter, that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter” and that better police practices will make the streets safer for police officers.
Obama turned out to be only too prescient.
So Friday, he broke away from a NATO summit in Warsaw and faced the cameras again to condemn the “vicious, calculated and despicable attack” in Dallas.
“Let’s be clear,” he said. “There is no possible justification for these kinds of attacks or any violence against law enforcement.”
By now, we all should know that trust must be rebuilt between law enforcement agencies and the communities they protect. Too many Americans see police officers as a threat. Too many officers feel under siege.
This corrosive distrust had been building long before 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014. Outrage led to the Black Lives Matter movement and to some action by our politicians.
Ironically, the Dallas department is a model of reform. California lawmakers took some modest steps. In Sacramento, there’s a new community police commission and a ramped-up effort to diversify the police force. Obama proposed more money for body-worn cameras, tried to demilitarize police departments by recalling surplus equipment and created a task force on 21st-century policing. But momentum for these reforms seems to have slowed.
With so many guns, so many unbalanced people and so much hatred in America today, it seemed only a matter of time before something like the horror in Dallas happened. Now that it has, we have to be brutally honest about the state of our nation and decide how to move forward.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings spoke the truth outside a prayer service Friday: His generation of leaders has let racial tensions fester for too long.
“After the events of this week, Americans … are feeling a sense of helplessness, of uncertainty and of fear,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. But, she added, “the answer is never violence. Rather the answer must be action: calm, peaceful, collaborative and determined action.”
She’s right. It won’t be easy, but if these Dallas officers are not to die in vain, we must redouble efforts to improve police-community relations. The alternative is that the grim toll of dead citizens and police officers will only grow. We can’t let that happen.