(CN) – For the third time in as many days President Barack Obama on Friday found himself in the unenviable role of mourner-in-chief as the nation again found itself reeling from the consequences of unfathomable gun violence in an American community.
Obama, of course, has been wrestling with the issue of gun violence and the ancillary issues of policing in black communities and the Black Lives Matter movement for much of his presidency.
It was, perhaps, inevitable in his role as America’s first black president. It became unavoidable after February 26, 2012, when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death in Sanford, Florida by an overzealous neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman.
Afterwards, the president said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
With just months to go in his presidency, Obama is again having to deal with issue of race, gun violence and policing in America.
On Wednesday, following the death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling at the hands of police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the subsequent killing of Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota both incidents caught on videos that quickly went viral the president called on leaders in the law enforcement community to root out bias in their ranks, but also said Americans need to recognize the all-too-frequent shootings involving white cops and black citizens across the United States were symptoms of a “broader set of racial disparities” in the nation’s justice system.
“When incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if it’s because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same,” Obama said, noting that blacks are being shot by police or arrested at more than twice the rate of white Americans.
“That should trouble all of us,” he said.
The president spoke in a hastily arranged appearance at a hotel in Warsaw just after arriving in Poland for a NATO summit.
Although weary and clear frustrated by such incidents, the president spoke in measured, thoughtful tones, well aware both that the shootings are still being investigated, and the similar statements in the past have inspired resentment from some in law enforcement.
Striving to avoid such controversies, the president emphasized that speaking out about the issue is not an attack on police.
“When people say ‘black lives matter,’ that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter,” he said. “That just means all lives matter — but right now, the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents.”
The problem, he said, is that change in the aftermath of earlier incidents has been too slow.
“We have to have a greater sense of urgency about this,” Obama said.
In 2014, the president created a task force to develop modern policing guidelines, and he urged local communities and policing agencies to implement those recommendations drafted by the Justice Department.
On Wednesday he said if anything good could come from the deaths of Sterling and Castile, it would be that more communities adopt the recommendations.
Then came Dallas, and the cold-blooded murder of five city police officers and the wounding of seven others during at the conclusion of what had been a peaceful protest of the deaths of two black men who died at the hands of police in Louisiana and Minnesota.
“I believe that I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events, and that we stand united with the people and the police department in Dallas,” Obama said early Friday morning, as Americans awoke to the news of the carnage.
The president acknowledged that as he spoke many of the fact surrounding the shooting had yet to come to light, but the one thing that was clear, he said, was that there had been “a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement.”
The events in Dallas, he said, are “a wrenching reminder of the sacrifices that they make for us.”
“Today our focus is on the victims and their families. They are heartbroken. The entire city of Dallas is grieving. Police across America, which is a tight-knit family, feels this loss to their core,” Obama said.
The president ordered flags flown at half-staff in honor of the victims and on Friday night the White House announced that he will cut short his European trip and visit Dallas early next week, as the city mourns the five police officers killed by a sniper.
Obama had been scheduled to return to Washington on Monday. Instead, he will leave Spain on Sunday night after a meeting with that country’s interim prime minister and a visit with U.S. military personnel.
The White House says Obama will focus next week on efforts to support police officers while addressing “persistent racial disparities” in the criminal justice system.
The shootings also caused Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to call off political events scheduled for Friday in the wake of the shooting deaths of five police officers in Dallas.
Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was to appear with Vice President Joe Biden in Scranton, Pennsylvania this morning.
Clinton tweeted: “I mourn for the officers shot while doing their sacred duty to protect peaceful protesters, for their families & all who serve with them.”
The shootings occurred during a protest over fatal police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.
The Clinton campaign said the candidate still plans to attend an African Methodist Episcopal Church convention in Philadelphia this evening.
Clinton aides said she was expected to address the shootings during her remarks.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee called a campaign event scheduled in Miami this afternoon, calling the Dallas shootings “a coordinated, premeditated assault on the men and women who keep us safe.”
He said the earlier deaths of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota were a reminder of “how much more needs to be done” to restore public confidence in law and order.
Trump, who has often been criticized for the divisive rhetoric he employs on the campaign trail said Friday that “our nation has become too divided.”
“Too many Americans feel like they’ve lost hope. Crime is harming too many citizens. Racial tensions have gotten worse, not better. This isn’t the American Dream we all want for our children,” Trump said.
“This is a time, perhaps more than ever, for strong leadership, love and compassion. We will pull through these tragedies,” he said.
President Barack Obama addresses the overnight shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas, in Warsaw, Poland Friday, July 8, 2016, before attending the NATO Summit. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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