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Where, How Does It End?

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A woman holds a candle during a peaceful demonstration and candlelight vigil in Oxford, Miss., July 16. The event was held to mourn recent violence including police shootings of African American men and the killing of five police officers in Dallas. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore—
And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode? –Langston Hughes, “Dream Deferred”

BATON ROUGE, La.—While officials and the president called for unity and a pro-police narrative has been spread in mainstream media, there is an undercurrent and sometimes overt expression of anger and frustration coming from inside Black America.

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Police stop a car and direct the driver to show his hands after coming from the direction of a police shooting on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge, La., on July 17. The driver’s car was searched, his identifi-cation checked, he was allowed to continue. Multiple law enforcement officers were killed and wounded in a shooting near a gas station in Baton Rouge, less than two weeks after a Black man was shot and killed by police here, sparking nightly protests across the city.

Seething outrage and sometimes conflicted feelings don’t condone the killing of police officers. But many don’t want gut feelings stifled as they grieve over Black men, women and children killed by police officers without consequences.

In interviews, in social media posts and in conversations, some expressed little empathy toward the killings of three police officers allegedly shot to death by Gavin Eugene Long July 17 along a local stretch of highway. Authorities said the former Marine sergeant meticulously executed an ambush on officers, which included Baton Rouge Police and East Baton Rouge Sherriff’s Dept. deputies. Three officers remained in the hospital at Final Call press time.

Some Blacks were also stunned that the alleged shooter killed a Black officer, Montrell Jackson, and didn’t understand why a Black officer would be targeted.

The mixed feelings reflected frustration, pain, a disbelief that much can change and questions about whether the White power structure would respond to anything outside of violence.

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Baton Rouge Police block Airline Highway after police were shot in Baton Rouge, La., July 17. Authorities say multiple law enforcement officers were killed and injured in a shooting in Baton Rouge. Photos: AP/Wide World photos

Mr. Long, who authorities said was from Kansas City, Mo., argued in video messages online that protests would never yield justice. He argued that only attacking those who opposed and killed Blacks through economic sanctions and outright fighting would make a change. On Facebook, some changed their profile pics to a photo of Micah Xavier Johnson, in apparent solidarity or perhaps frustration. He was named by officials as the man who killed and wounded police officers in Dallas.

The president and others vehemently and totally disagreed with any violent acts: “As these killings continue to shock the conscience of Louisianans and the nation, we look forward to the day when hastiness on behalf of police, poor training of police and aggression on behalf of police are behind us,” Urban League of Greater New Orleans President and CEO Erika McConduit-Diggs said. “The Baton Rouge community is tight-knit; a city whose residents genuinely care about their neighbors. This strong sense of community can be seen by the outpouring of local support. As this altercation highlights, there is still work to be done to bring the community closer together and build a more trusting relationship between its citizens and those sworn to protect them.”

The president pushes for toned down words

President Obama called for Americans to tamp down inflammatory words and actions. Mr. Obama said the motive behind the killing of three officers in Baton Rouge, La., was still unknown. It was the latest in a string of deadly incidents involving law enforcement, including the police shooting of a Black man in Baton Rouge and the killing of five officers in Dallas.

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“We as a nation have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies attacks on law enforcement,” President Obama said in remarks from the White House briefing room. The president spoke on the eve of the Republican Party’s national convention, where Donald Trump would officially accept the GOP nomination. The businessman has cast the recent incidents as a sign that the country needs new leadership, often using heated rhetoric to make his point. He also pointedly criticized President Obama July 18, saying the president showed less emotion over the deaths of police officers than Blacks killed by police officers.

President Obama advised that with the political conventions, elected officials and interest groups should focus their words and actions on uniting the country, rather than dividing it.

“We don’t need inflammatory rhetoric. We don’t need careless accusations thrown around to score political points or to advance an agenda. We need to temper our words and open our hearts … all of us,” Mr. Obama said.

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The president also seemed intent on demonstrating again his support for law enforcement. Some organizations have cast doubt on that support. The National Association of Police Organizations said after the Dallas shooting that America was in the midst of a war on law enforcement officers. The group said the administration needed to show political leadership by “supporting them and giving them the resources they need to protect themselves and their communities.”

“Attacks on police are an attack on all of us and the rule of law that makes society possible,” Mr. Obama emphasized July 17.

The president spoke earlier that day with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden to hear the latest on the investigation into the shootings and pledge federal support.

Mr. Obama spent most of the previous week focused on defusing tensions and rebuilding trust between police departments and the communities they serve.

A shooter targeted law enforcement in Dallas, killing five and wounding seven other officers. The shooter, who authorities said was Black, said he wanted to kill White people, especially White officers. Mr. Obama spoke at the memorial service for the officers killed and told Americans not to despair, that the nation is not as divided as it might seem.

Following the Dallas memorial, Mr. Obama held an extraordinary four-hour meeting at the White House’s executive offices with police officers, community activists and elected leaders.

He said the country would have to “just grind it out” in solving tensions between police and the Black community.

The shooting of the police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge were preceded by police shootings of two Black men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, which sparked protests around the country. Dallas police were overseeing a police violence protest when the gunman opened fire on them.

What about Black suffering?

Earledreka White, who is 28, says she was pulled over by a police officer, dragged out of her car, manhandled, arrested and jailed in Houston. Her heart goes out to the Black men “taking matters into their own hands because we can’t rely on police to. They’re beginning to act like suicide bombers in the streets of America,” she said.

Larry Aubry in a piece called “The Origin and Persistence of Black Rage,” observed, “The 21st century began with the widespread, but absurd, claim America is a post-racial society. That coupled with the financial crisis, emergence of Tea Party conservatism, and huge demographic shifts tended to further obscure Blacks’ discontent and muted rage. After all, don’t we have a Black President?”

“America is rich and powerful, in large measure, on the backs of Black laborers. It has become a violent, pitiless nation, hard and calculating. … Since the demise of slavery, Black people have been expendable in a cruel and impatient land,” he wrote in his piece published on www.laprogressive.com. “One might consider the possibility that if the national direction remains unchanged, a requisite conflagration simply might not come about.”

He added, “No matter what repressive measures are invoked against Blacks, they will never swallow their rage and go back to blind hopelessness. There are no more psychological tricks Blacks can play upon themselves to make it possible to exist in dreadful circumstances. No more lies can they tell themselves. No more dreams to fix on. No more opiates to dull the pain. No more patience. No more thought. No more reason.”

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Baton Rouge suspected shooter has been identified as Gavin Eugene Long.

“We extend our condolences and sympathy to the families of those whose lives have been taken by violence,” said Student Minister Robert Muhammad, who is Southwest Regional minister for the Nation of Islam. He spoke at the funeral services for Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. “The Nation of Islam condemns all acts of terrorism. We carry no weapons, we want justice for all but we understand our peoples’ frustration given that there is no justice in the legal system when we are killed, hurt or harmed.” At the funeral service he spoke of the value and spirit of Black young people who don’t want to endure oppression quietly. “There’s no substitute for justice, not a check, not a legal settlement, not a proclamation, not a street sign named after him, only justice will do,” he told mourners. Blacks need to be self-determined, productive and remember America is a nation founded on violence, he said. Peace is founded on justice, added Dr. Muhammad.

Black rage, righteous anger?

There has also been a consistent demand in America that Blacks never show anger or rage. Many, especially youth, are rejecting that notion.

“Black rage is justified rage. Let us stay steadfast in our mission and stand unapologetically with our people,” said the Black Youth Project 100, in a statement posted online July 8. “As our people—Black men, women, girls, femmes, and folks of all or no gender alike—are slaughtered in our streets by the hands of police and killed slowly and quietly by other means of state violence, we continue the push to build power within our communities. We understand non-violence as one tactic in long-term strategy to achieve Black liberation, not as an inherent value.”

The activist group argued, “The incidents that are occurring in places such as Dallas, Georgia, St. Louis, and Tennessee are a direct response to violence in places like Baton Rouge. Only through collective action grounded in strong communities and transformative justice can we realize a safer world for all of us. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered for trying to survive in a world that denied them of dignity. Mya Hall, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Betty Jones. The list goes on and on. We push to dismantle the police state and abolish the prison system. As the state continues to uphold a status quo of anti-Black racism, we remember the words of James Baldwin: ‘to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.’ ”

“The soul of America will not be redeemed by unearned Black suffering, but by unapologetic Black prophetic rage. The moral architects of America—people claimed by love and imagination—must guard against the deterioration of rage into nihilism. Rage must escort us by the heart to hope. This is prophetic rage, blues hope. Black Prophetic rage resists empire and creates the Beloved Community,” wrote Willie Dwayne Francois III, senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville, N.J., on Huffington Post.

“Black rage, a form of prophecy, refuses to accept injustice as normal and invincible. Black rage now fuels a form of faithful activism committed to transforming the paralyzing and predatory policies that continue to plunder Black communities. If all of our lives are stitched together in a single garment of destiny, Black rage that saves Black life saves America,” he added. The piece was titled “Black Rage: Saving the Soul of the State.”

“I am sympathetic to the death of officers, but I wish officials would be as aggressive about the killing of my son and other Black men killed at the hands of law enforcement,” said Rev. Victor White of New Iberia, La., whose son died in police custody while handcuffed. The authorities said the young man hid a gun, though he was searched by police, handcuffed behind his back and placed in a police vehicle. Authorities said the young man shot himself in the chest. “The D.A. said we will make a resoruces available looking into the deaths of the officers, well that needs to happen for us as well.”

“Brutality and murder must be stopped. We are not advocating violence. We respect the law and we are due equal justice under the law,” said Abdul Rashid Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 65 in Baton Rouge.

(J.A. Salaam contributed to this report from Baton Rouge, La. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.)

(Final Call)

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