Condemning the Baton Rouge shooting as “cowardly” assault, President Barack Obama on Monday called for national unity and asked Americans and political leaders to avoid inflammatory words and focus on “uniting the country rather than dividing it”.
“It is so important that everyone regardless of race or political party or profession, regardless of what organisations you are a part of, everyone right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further,” Obama said in an address to the nation from White House after three police officers were killed by a former African-American Marine veteran in Baton Rouge in Louisiana.
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Condemning the shooting, he said, “Attacks on police are an attack on all of us and the rule of law that makes society possible.”
“We as a nation have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence against law enforcement,” Obama said after describing the shooting of the police officers as “a cowardly and reprehensible assault” in an earlier statement.
The lone gunman, who was shot dead, also wounded three other police officials in the attack which shocked the entire nation on a weekend on the eve of the Republican convention in Cleveland.
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.
In a somber speech, Obama said five days ago he travelled to Dallas for the memorial service of the five officers who were slain there.
“I said that killer would not be the last person who tries to make us turn on each other. Nor will today’s killer. It remains up to us to make sure that they fail. That decision is all of ours. The decision to make sure that our best selves are reflected across America, not our worst , that’s up to us,” he said.
“We have our divisions, and they are not new. Around- the-clock news cycles and social media sometimes amplify these divisions, and I know we are about to enter a couple of weeks of conventions where our political rhetoric tends to be more overheated than usual,” US President said.
In an apparent reference to the political mudslinging and effort to widen the racial divide, Obama said one do not 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. We need what we saw in Dallas this week, as a community came together to restore order and deepen unity and understanding,” he said.
“We need the kind of efforts we saw this week in meetings between community leaders and police—some of which I participated in—where I saw people of good will pledge to work together to reduce violence throughout all of our communities. That’s what’s needed right now. And it is up to all of us to make sure we are part of the solution and not part of the problem,” the US President said. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said the “devastating” assault on police officers in Baton Rouge is an assault on all.
“There is no justification for violence, for hate, for attacks on men and women who put their lives on the line every day in service of our families and communities,” she said.
“We must not turn our backs on each other. We must not be indifferent to each other. We must all stand together to reject violence and strengthen our communities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of the police officers who were killed and injured today,” Clinton said.
However, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said the “country is divided”.
“Our country is totally divided and our enemies are watching. We are not looking good, we are not looking smart, we are not looking tough!” he said in a tweet.
“President Obama just had a news conference, but he doesn’t have a clue. Our country is a divided crime scene, and it will only get worse,” Trump said.
The billionaire is scheduled to arrive in Cleveland today to attend the GOP convention where he would be formally nominated as the party’s presidential candidate.
In a statement, US Vice President Joe Biden described the attack as “despicable and cowardly”.
“It’s a despicable act and it’s an attack on our very way of life at home,” he said.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with our law enforcement community after today’s horrible shootings. All lives matter, plain and simple,” tweeted Bobby Jindal, the former Governor of Louisiana said.
Condemning the attack, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “We will not tolerate brutal violence against law enforcement-the people who dedicate their lives to protecting Americans. Our nation grieves with Louisiana today. My prayers are with the fallen officers and their families.”
“There is no place in the United States for such appalling violence, and I condemn these acts in the strongest possible terms,” said the US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch.