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Dallas shootings compound the horror for AmericansA three-day spasm of violence in the USHow a peaceful protest became a crazed massacre of policemenA three-day spasm of violence in the US

Dallas, Texas: It took two massacres, first of 49 gay Latinos in Orlando, and now of five cops in Dallas, to engineer a remarkable revelation for American voters. And it is this – Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is capable of complex political thought.

As sociologists and other experts debate the extent to which the brutal and bloody racial tension of this election year are more incendiary than historic ruptures in the 1960s and 1970s, Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton agree implicitly that despite bearing all the characteristics of a political cluster-bomb, neither can afford to ignore race.

But here’s what happened on Friday – after the fiasco of Trump’s puerile ‘it’s all about me’ response to Orlando, in Dallas he showed that he could reach out to both sides in a complex conflict; the man who revels in lighting fires, showed that maybe he can help to douse the flames.

It was a given that Trump would loudly pledge loyalty to law enforcement, which he hailed as the force between civilisation and total chaos. But in a video statement released by his campaign, Trump was uncharacteristically thoughtful in addressing the questionable death by police gunfire of African Americans Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in separate incidents last week.

Reducing fundamental philosophy to slogans, Trump declared: “Every American has the right to live in the safety and peace.” And then, in a play on his ‘make America great again’ slogan, he said: “we’ll make America safe again.”

Amped hugely by the power of social media, a first fuse for the Dallas implosion was lit by the death of Sterling as police had him pinned down on pavement in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and 24hrs later, the second fuse was a chilling video feed that Castile’s girlfriend streamed live from their car after a cop who pulled them over for a broken tail light, pulled the trigger that killed Castile – as she and her four-year- old daughter watched.

Like a chain of fire crackers, protests erupted across the country – including a rally and march through the streets of Dallas on Thursday evening which, by many accounts was a happy, selfie-punctuated interaction between predominantly black protesters and city police.

This is an important point, because on Friday morning Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick worked the national airwaves, slamming the protesters as hypocrites for expecting police protection from a deranged sniper at the very moment when they were protesting against police violence.

And if that was Patrick’s sense of how a democracy should work, the clientele at Trendz Barber Shop in southwest Dallas were having none of it when a reporter dropped by on Friday. Customer Corrie Williams, 37, who said he hesitated to have children because of what they might face because of the colour of their skin, argued that there had been a fundamental shift in black thinking – “The pulse of Black America is that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired – something has to give.”

In all that, last week was the contact point for an implosion that has been building in the American body politic, through serial murders and massacres, starting with the 2012 murder of 17-year- old Trayvon Martin by a neighbourhood vigilante in Sanford, Florida; and the 2014 killing of 18-year- old Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Then mass killings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut; Charleston, South Carolina; and Orlando, Florida; exposed abject failure in on-again, off-again efforts to control guns, further stoking black anger at a time when economic dislocation and hardship were fuelling the frustration and a sense of lost control among some whites.

Boxing recent events as a single expression of national angst, The New York Times said: “In the midst of one of the most consequential presidential campaigns in memory, those convulsive events raised the prospect of still deeper divides in a country already torn by racial and ideological animus.”

Analysts make the point that the current tension might match that of the 1960s and 1970s, but back then there was no eruption as big as in Dallas on Thursday and these days a torrent of social media images and commentaries feed an African American belief that little has changed.

“There is a constant bombardment of images of brutality against African-Americans, and not just brutality, but state-sponsored brutality,” said Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at Georgetown University Law Centre. This week’s videos, he said, were particularly devastating. “It’s visceral,” he told the Times. “It hits you in the gut. It’s emotional and graphic, so it makes you feel worse.”

In remarkable observations made before the Dallas killings, Milwaukee police chief Ed Flynn said: “We’re the most heavily armed, violent society in the history of Western civilization and we dump this duty on 25-year- olds [in police departments]. The problem for American policing is we’re learning the hard way, that our political establishment finds it far easier to develop a constituency at the expense of our police than to solve these social problems.”

The ratcheting up of racial tension, particularly in an election year, is alarming. A survey by the Pew Research Centre in June found that only 46 per cent of whites thought race relations were generally good, a dramatic fall-off from the 66 per cent recorded in June 2009, just months after Mr Obama took office. The drop among blacks was even sharper – down from 59 per cent in 2009, to 34 in June this year.

In Warsaw, Poland, for a two-day NATO summit, President Obama said of the Dallas police – described the Dallas murders as both a “vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement,” and a “wrenching reminder of the sacrifices they make for us.”

Yet in the hours before the attack he made a heartfelt plea to white Americans to understand the raw deal that African Americans get when they tangle with the police and criminal justice system – he posited the Louisiana and Minnesota killings as symptoms of a “broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”

In that professorial manner of his, Obama set out the horrible statistics of minorities and the law: “African Americans are 30 per cent more likely than whites to be pulled over. After being pulled over, African Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched. Last year, African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.

“African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites; African Americans defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums. They receive sentences that are almost ten percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime.”

And challenging those who so easily dismiss the Black Lives Matter message as a new slice of political correctness, he asked: “What if this happened to somebody in your family? How would you feel?”

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch consoled and challenged.

“This has been a week of profound grief and heartbreaking loss,” she said on Friday.

“After the events of this week, Americans across our country are feeling a sense of helplessness, of uncertainty and of fear,” she counseled, before urging: “We must reject the easy impulses of bitterness and rancour,” she added, “and embrace the difficult work — but the important work, the vital work — of finding a path forward together.”

Both Clinton and Trump embraced the Dallas Police Department, but Clinton also steered her commentary to the victims of last week’s police killings and the power of social media.

“We’ve got to do everything possible to support our police and to support innocent Americans who have encounters with police,” Mrs Clinton said in a CNN interview.

Vowing to fight systemic police racism and to ensure better training for law enforcement officials who, she said, should be integrated into the communities they serve, she called for white understanding of black fear of clashing with the police – “We’re the ones who have to start listening to the legitimate cries that are coming from our African-American fellow citizens.”

Later on Friday, Clinton told a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia: “There is too much violence, too much hate, too much senseless killing, too many people dead who shouldn’t be.”

She acknowledged that she would upset some for an overhaul of the criminal justice system at the same time as she praised law enforcement officials, “but all these things can be true at once,” she said.

Meanwhile, it was too much to expect all in the Trump campaign to drink the new Kool-Aid at the same time. Mirroring Trump’s lack of empathy in the wake of the Orlando, massacre, one of his Virginia campaign officials fired off a tweet as the Dallas killings unfolded – blaming the killings on Hilary Clinton “who label[s] police as racist [and is] to blame for essentially encouraging the murder of these police officers tonight.”

It’s been a whiplash week in the US – mass black protests over two police killings, and then the nation is stunned when a sniper or snipers run amok in Dallas.

But it’s hard too not to be utterly cynical about what American society visits on itself – driving in from Dallas Fort Worth Airport on Friday morning, I listened, as a weepy radio talk show host tried to depict Black Lives Matter as a radical fringe movement backed by dangerous money – interrupted only by advertisements for the Lone Star Gun Show, opening this weekend at Fort Worth, just a 30 minute drive away on Route 30.

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