A string of police killings of African-Americans in recent years has highlighted such fears. The killings made headlines and ignited protests nationwide after many of them were captured on video and widely viewed on social media. Civil rights leaders are calling for police to be held accountable for their actions and for an end to what they say is racial profiling. In response, many police say that they’re being unfairly judged by the actions of a few officers and that snippets of video that go viral on social media don’t always tell the whole story. Some law enforcement officials blame activist movements like Black Lives Matter for a growing anti-police sentiment that they say is making officers’ jobs more dangerous.
Tensions reached a boiling point this past summer. First, on July 5 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, two police officers shot and killed a black man named Alton Sterling while arresting him outside a store. The next day, an officer fatally shot another black man, Philando Castile, during a traffic stop near St. Paul, Minnesota. (Both Castile and Sterling were carrying guns, and Castile had a license to do so; the details of exactly what led up to each shooting are still under investigation.)
Then, on July 7, during a peaceful march in Dallas, Texas, protesting those shootings, a sniper killed five police officers. Ten days later, three officers in Baton Rouge were killed by a gunman who was targeting police. (The Dallas and Baton Rouge assailants, both black, were killed by police.)
In August, violence broke out in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after a police officer fatally shot a black man named Sylville K. Smith who had allegedly fled with a gun during a traffic stop. In the protests that followed, angry crowds injured several officers.
These tragedies mark the latest chapter in an increasingly passionate debate over racial justice, discrimination, and violence in the United States.
“If we cannot talk honestly and openly—not just in the comfort of our own circles, but with those who look different than us or bring a different perspective—then we will never break this dangerous cycle,” President Obama said at a memorial service in Dallas.