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Obama: US Can Expect Tension Between Police, Activists 'for Quite Some Time'

  • Cindy Saine

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a conversation on community policing and criminal justice at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 13, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a conversation on community policing and criminal justice at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 13, 2016.

President Barack Obama says the United States can expect to see more tension between police and communities "next month, next year, for quite some time."

Obama held a four-hour conversation Wednesday at the White House to discuss how to keep people safe, build community trust and ensure justice for all Americans.

A large and diverse group participated in the exchange of ideas, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, NAACP President Cornell Brooks, other elected officials, police chiefs from several major cities, activists representing the Black Lives Matter movement, and several faith leaders.

The president said he wanted to bring people into the room with different perspectives to listen to each other.

After the meeting, which went on much longer than planned, the president said the good news was that progress has been made in many police departments across the country. He said Wednesday's conversation would build off his administration's "Task Force on 21st Century Policing," and would share solutions from communities that have already found ways to build trust and reduce racial disparities.

But he had this sober assessment: "There is no doubt police departments still feel embattled and unjustly accused. There is no doubt that minority communities — communities of color — feel it just takes too long to do what's right. The pace of change is going to feel too fast for some, too slow for others."

‘More tension’ ahead

Because this is a big country, "I think it is fair to say we will see more tension between police and communities this month, next month, next year, for quite some time," he added.

President Barack Obama speaks to the media at the bottom of a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, July 13, 2016.

President Barack Obama speaks to the media at the bottom of a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, July 13, 2016.

The president said progress on preventing shootings like last week's incidents will not happen overnight, because the roots date back not just decades, but centuries. "What we can do," he said, is to set up a series of respectful conversations to make sure we hold ourselves accountable for getting better.

"As a country," Obama said, "we have to sit down as a country and just grind it out."

Garcetti said the conversation on race was extremely urgent, and that although not everyone agreed on everything, the activists, police officers and elected officials were able to re-establish a sense of common humanity.

Several participants spoke of a breakthrough moment, saying every single person had a chance to speak, and people felt as if they were truly being heard by those normally on the opposite side of the divisive issue of race and law enforcement.

Garcetti said a breakthrough moment for him was when one of the Black Lives Matter activists turned to a police officer and told him he was sorry for the loss of five police officers shot in Dallas last week by a sniper.

Civil rights leader Al Sharpton said, "This nation is at a serious point. We needed to talk frankly to each other and that is what happened. We learned a lot about each other's real feelings."

More ideas wanted

The meeting was called in response to harrowing events last week that have many Americans anxious and upset.

Two black men were shot by police officers at point-blank range in the states of Louisiana and Minnesota; then, at a rally in Texas protesting those shootings, five police officers were shot by a black gunman who said he wanted to kill white people.

FILE - Tasha Lomoglio, of Dallas, cries after lighting candles at a makeshift memorial in honor of the slain Dallas police officers in front of police headquarters in Dallas, Texas, July 9, 2016.

FILE - Tasha Lomoglio, of Dallas, cries after lighting candles at a makeshift memorial in honor of the slain Dallas police officers in front of police headquarters in Dallas, Texas, July 9, 2016.

In the face of the carnage, the president has insisted that progress is possible if Americans listen and talk to each other honestly about race.

The conversation on race took place on the same day funerals were held in Dallas for three of the five police officers killed last week.

The two other officers will be buried later this week, including Patrick Zamarripa.

His brother, Carlos, told VOA that his slain brother was a funny, loving and all-around caring person whom everyone loved.

"My brother was a hero, a true hero, not one of the ones who asks for recognition. He never asked for the spotlight, never asked for the pat on the shoulder. He was always the person that gave out of his heart," Carlos Zamarripa said.

The sniper in Dallas, Micah Johnson, killed the police officers during a rally by Black Lives Matter, a movement trying to pressure political leaders to take action on police brutality and criminal justice reform.

In the U.S. Senate, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas introduced legislation that would make it a federal crime to kill a police officer.

In a statement, Cornyn said: "As our country continues to grieve following last week's tragedy in Dallas, we must come together in support of those who risk everything to keep us safe."

On Facebook, Obama asked Americans from all walks of life to share their own ideas for healing racial wounds and keeping people safe: "Going forward, I want to hear ideas from even more Americans about how we can address these challenges together as one nation. That means you. Whether you're a police officer working to keep our communities safe, an activist marching and organizing, or anyone else, you can share your story and ideas here: go.wh.gov/VDPvKz."

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