By: Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
MADRID Spain — The Black Lives Matter movement that’s arisen in response to police shootings of black men is part of a long line of protest movements that have transformed America for the better, President Obama said Sunday, defending the protests amid renewed tensions over race and policing across the country. But he also acknowledged that those debates are often “messy and controversial,” and urged protesters to “maintain a respectful, thoughtful tone” after a week of deadly shootings — both of African-American men by police and of police officers by a Dallas gunman.
Obama cut short his four-day trip to Europe and instead will go to Dallas Tuesday to speak an an interfaith prayer service, the White House announced Sunday. He’ll also devote most of the week working on police issues, aides said.
Obama has spoken about the events of last week four times in the last three days, even as he’s juggled an important foreign trip with NATO allies in Warsaw and Spanish leaders in Madrid. But Sunday’s comments were focused on the social media-fueled protest movement that has has brought national attention to the issue of police shootings.
And they came the day after DeRay Mckesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist, was arrested at a protest in Baton Rouge. That’s where police shot and killed 37-year-old Alton Sterling in an incident caught on video and widely shared on social media last Tuesday — the first of three incidents that brought issues of race and policing exploding back into the headlines.
On CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called the Black Lives Matter movement “inherently racist” and that police feel it “puts a target on their back.” “They sing rap songs about killing police officers and they talk about killing police officers and they yell it out at their rallies and the police officers hear it,” Giuliani said
Obama condemned the more extreme voices, while defending the movement as a whole. “In a movement like Black Lives Matter there are always going to be folks who say things that are stupid or imprudent or over generalized or harsh,” Obama said after meeting with acting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
“Whenever those of us who are concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system attack police officers, you are doing a disservice to the cause,” Obama said, calling violence against police a “reprehensible” crime that needs to be prosecuted. “But even rhetorically, if we paint police in broad brush without recognizing that the vast majority of police officers are doing a really good job and are trying to protect people … if the rhetoric does not recognize that, then we’re going to lose allies in the reform cause.”
Even before a sniper killed five police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, Obama has gone out of his way to acknowledge both the evidence of bias in policing and the difficult and dangerous job that police officers have. “There are legitimate issues that have been raised,” he said. “And there is data and evidence to back up the concerns that are being expressed.”
Obama praised the Dallas police department and its chief, David Brown. “That’s part of why it’s so tragic that those officers were targeted in Dallas, a place that is because of its transparency and training and openness and engagement has drastically brought down the number of police shootings.”
Just as protesters need to be respectful of police, the law enforcement community needs to listen the frustrations of people in minority communities, Obama said, and “Not just dismiss these protests and these complaints as political correctness or as politics or attacks on police.”.