Obama Focuses On U.S. Violence While In Poland For NATO Summit

Jul 8, 2016
Originally published on July 8, 2016 2:15 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All morning we've been following the news of the shooting in Dallas where five police officers were shot dead. President Obama is in Poland at a NATO summit this morning, but overnight he spoke about the Dallas attack.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We still don't know all the facts. What we do know is that there has been a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement.

MARTIN: That's President Obama speaking in Warsaw, Poland. For more on the president's remarks on this, we're joined on the line by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Mara, we heard a bit of the president there, but fill out the contours of this for us. What else did he say about the Dallas attacks?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, this was an extraordinary night for the president. Twice in 12 hours he had to come before the cameras - first, to decry the shootings of two black civilians in New Orleans and Minnesota, then again, as you just heard, to decry the killing of police officers in Dallas. Both times the president tried to strike a balance between condemning the shootings of both police officers and then earlier black victims. And in his statement - you just played a clip of that - he also referenced what he had just said a few hours before. Let's take a listen to that.

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OBAMA: Even as yesterday, I spoke about our need to be concerned as all Americans about racial disparities in our criminal justice system. I also said yesterday that our police have an extraordinarily difficult job, and the vast majority of them do their job in outstanding fashion. I also indicated the degree to which we need to be supportive of those officers who do their job each and every day.

MARTIN: It is remarkable, right, Mara? He's in NATO to take on this global agenda, yet keeps getting pulled back because of the violence happening back here at home. It was only a few hours before the Dallas shooting, as you mentioned, the president made a statement about the police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.

LIASSON: That's right. It was 1 a.m., about quarter of one in Warsaw time when he made the statement about the killings of the black men, and let's take a listen to some of that.

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OBAMA: If communities are mistrustful of the police, that makes those law enforcement officers who are doing a great job and are doing the right thing, it makes their lives harder. So, you know, when people say black lives matter, that doesn't mean blue lives don't matter. It just means that 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.

LIASSON: That's a pretty good example of the balance that the president is trying to strike when he talks about blue lives matter. He's talking about the color of police uniforms. And he was talking about statistics that show that black men, black people, are more likely to be pulled over than white people. They're more likely to be killed by police officers than white people. So the president is really struggling at every instance to be even-handed and to condemn killings of everyone.

MARTIN: He's supposed to be addressing a huge agenda during this NATO summit, but is there any indication that the president might be cutting his trip short?

LIASSON: No indication now. He's been on other trips where crises have happened, terrorist attacks, other shootings like this, and he hasn't cut his trip short then. The presidency travels with the president everywhere. He gets briefings. He has every communications tool available, and, as you can see, he spoke to the American people twice in the space of just 12 hours about this.

And I would expect that he'll continue to communicate with the American public back home, even as he's dealing with pretty important issues about NATO and Brexit in Europe.

MARTIN: Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent, thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.