By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday responded to critics who charged he has not done enough to show support for law enforcement officers after two years of protests against incidents of violence by police against the black community.
Obama faced several pointed questions during a town hall broadcast on television network ABC exploring the emotionally charged issues surrounding policing and racial discrimination in the United States.
The divide between police and the black community was brought into stark focus last week when a man, angry about killings by police of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, shot and killed five police officers in Dallas at a demonstration.
Obama, the nation’s first black president, has repeatedly condemned violence against police officers. After the Dallas shootings, he urged the country to come together.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican who called Black Lives Matters protesters “hypocrites” after the Dallas shooting, urged Obama to do more to support police, including illuminating the White House with blue lights.
“I would ask you to consider being careful not be too quick to condemn the police without due process, and until the facts are known,” Patrick said.
Obama told Patrick he has been “unequivocal” in his support for police. “I think it’s already been expressed. I’ll be happy to send it to you, in case you missed it,” he said.
But Obama also said that data shows disparities in how African-Americans are treated by police.
“We have to address that honestly,” Obama said. “This is not just stuff I make up.”
During the town hall, Obama addressed broad questions about race relations in questions from Cameron Sterling, whose father was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Diamond Reynolds, whose fiance died in Minnesota.
But he also heard from Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, who expressed frustration with the distrust between the black community and his officers, and Teri George, the mother of a Baltimore police officer injured during riots last summer.
“It just seemed like nobody was there to protect him,” George told Obama.
John Minster, a Republican student at DePaul University, asked Obama why he had commented on the “potential racial aspect” of high-profile police shootings before waiting for the cases to work their way through the legal system.
“Why always look at these situations through the prism of race?” Minster asked.
Obama said it was part of his role as president to try to calm the nation after shootings sparked national anger.
“I’m not suggesting that I always get that fine line perfectly – but if I don’t say anything at a time when people feel hurt, angry, there are protests, there are flare-ups, then I wouldn’t be doing my job,” he said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bill Rigby)