The conversations about not just race and policing, but also gun control are ratcheting up in the wake of what President Barack Obama described as a "painful week", in which two black men were fatally shot by white police officers and five Dallas police officers were gunned down by a sniper during a Black Lives Matter protest.
"I firmly believe America is not as divided as some suggest," Obama said during a news conference from a NATO summit in Warsaw. "We cannot let the actions of a few define all of us."
Simmering racial tensions seemingly boiled over after the deaths of first Alton Sterling, who was shot at close range by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and then Philando Castile, who was killed by police during a routine traffic stop with his girlfriend and her daughter in the car. Both Sterling and Castile's deaths – which were caught on camera – served as painful reminders to many that skin color deeply affects the nature of police-civilian interactions and leave people of color vulnerable to brutality.
Micah Johnson has been named as the lone gunman in the Dallas attack. Johnson served in Afghanistan, adhered to militant black nationalism and expressed his desire to "kill white people especially white officers." Dallas police chief David O Brown said that Johnson was "upset about Black Lives Matter" and "about the recent police shootings."
While Obama used gentle words, Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings took a different approach. At a prayer service for the five slain officers on Saturday, Rawlings said "we will not shy away from the very real fact that we as a city, we as a state, we as a nation, are struggling with racial issues."
"They continue to divide us, and yes, it's that word "race" and we have to attack it head on," Rawlings continued. "This is on my generation of leaders. This is on our watch that we have let this continue to fester, led the next generation down a path of vicious rhetoric and actions that pit one against the other."
Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police – the biggest police union representing 330,000 officers – also criticized Obama's words and accused him of dividing the country along racial lines. "We'd like to see the president make one speech that speaks to everybody instead of one speech that speaks to black people as they grieve and one speech that speaks to police officers as they grieve," Pasco said.
William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, blamed what happened in Dallas on Obama's "appeasement" of Black Lives Matter.
"It's a horrible day. It's a war on cops," Johnson said. "The Obama administration is the Neville Chamberlain of the war. I think their continued appeasement of violent criminals, their refusal to condemn movements like Black Lives Matter, actively calling for the death of police officers, that type of thing, all the while blaming police for the problems in this country has led directly to the climate that has made Dallas possible."
On Thursday, before the protest in Dallas, Politico reported, Obama sought to strike a balance between law enforcement and the black community in the wake of the two shootings.
"To be concerned about these issues is not to be against law enforcement," he said. "When people say black lives matter, it doesn't mean blue lives don't matter."
During the chaos of Thursday night in Dallas, images of a black man carrying an AR-15 rifle made the rounds on news media as a possible suspect. Texas is an open-carry state, and the man turned out to be the protest organizers brother whose gun was unloaded.
The shooting in Dallas came just weeks after a man opened fire at a gay club in Orlando, killing 49. "When people are armed with powerful weapons, unfortunately it makes it more deadly and more tragic," Obama said. "And in the days ahead we are going to have to consider those realities as well."
His words about gun control were blasted by Republicans who accused him of using a tragedy as an opportunity to advance his own political agenda.
Former GOP candidate Ben Carson said on Fox News' "Fox and Friends" that "now is definitely not the time to get political," adding that Obama's response to the shooting posed a threat to 2nd Amendment rights. "Yes, there are some bad apples and, yes, we will find ways to deal with them but in no way do we indict the entire police force," Carson said.
Mike Huckabee, another former GOP candidate and former Arkansas governor, also spoke on Fox News. "He doesn't need to inject the divisive arguments like gun control at a time of great grief for the nation."