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Live: Dallas police shooting, day two Dallas shootings compound the horror for AmericansHow a peaceful protest became a crazed massacre of policemenA three-day spasm of violence in the US

Dallas, Texas: A quintessential American city, the name of which is etched in the global consciousness as the setting for an earlier act of infamy, the 1963 assassination of President John F Kennedy, Dallas finds itself at the intersection of a US debate that seemingly is irreconcilable.

The right to bear arms overpowers any right to feel secure in a community – without resorting to that aforesaid right to bear arms; and a tangled mess as a right to protest shortcomings in justice and policing clashes with an urge to defend cops who, as a woman sitting next to me on the flight to Dallas put it, “are the guardian’s of our democracy.”

For Texans, Thursday evening’s massacre only a few blocks from Dealey Plaza, where the Kennedy motorcade came under fire, rekindled uncomfortable memories of the ugly epithet foisted on them decades ago – “the city of hate.” And for Americans generally, it infused an anguished debate on race and lopsided outcomes in the criminal and justice systems, with the fear and loathing that is the inane US debate on gun control.

At a poignant press conference in the Capitol in DC, there was a heartfelt mix of outrage and hurt as members of the Congressional Black Caucus called on Republicans to allow votes on bills for tougher gun control laws – like the previously rejected bid to bar terror suspects from acquiring weapons.

They foreshadowed new efforts to win bigger budget allocations for law enforcement training and to have local police forces and communities agree to voluntary performance standards for the police. But mostly, they put on the record their horror at what had happened in Texas.

The president and the press had to turn on a dime. After two police shooting early in the week, in which African Americans were shot and killed at point-blank range – one in Baton Rouge Louisiana, the other in St Paul, Minnesota – the news cycle was geared to a renewed focus on race and the law.

Arriving in Poland on Thursday for a NATO summit, Obama was eloquent and anguished in equal measure, pleading a case for black America to white America – to see 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, the president 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 per cent 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?”

But just hours later, Obama was back at the lectern, condemning the mass murder in Dallas.

“We will learn more, undoubtedly, about their twisted motivations, but let’s be clear: there are no possible justifications for these attacks or any violence towards law enforcement. There has been a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement.”

As some cities, including New York, Boston and Chicago, ordered officers to patrol in pairs, there were reports of copy-cat attacks, much lower calibre attacks on officers in Tennessee, Georgia and Missouri – in which four police were wounded.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch described the killing as an “unfathomable tragedy.”

Pleading for a calm response, not more violence, she alluding to a sense of fear and helplessness among Americans at the end of “a week of profound grief and heartbreak and loss,” which included the police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota that were the reason for the protest at which the Dallas officers were gunned down.

In Congress, both sides condemned the killings, with House Speaker Paul Ryan appealing for Americans to unite.

“We are all stunned,” he said. “I know that to be a cop’s wife or a cop’s husband is to prepare for the worst. But who could have fathomed such horror as this? There is no cause or context in which this violence, this kind of terror is justified…none at all. There will be a temptation to let our anger harden our divisions. Let’s not let that happen.”

Seeming to make a rare gesture to Obama, Ryan went on: “As the president rightfully said, ‘Justice will be done.’ We also have to let the healing be done as well.

“This has been a long week for our country, it has been a long month for America. We have seen terrible senseless things. Every member of this body — every Republican and every Democrat — wants to see less gun violence. Every member of this body wants a world in which people feel safe regardless of the colour of their skin. That’s not how people are feeling these days.”

But it wasn’t clear that Ryan was ready to fall in with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings who, during a lunchtime vigil on Friday, urged all Americans to make a ‘head-on attack’ on the race issue.

“We will not shy away from the very real fact that we as a city, as a state, as a nation are struggling with racial issues [that] continue to divide us,” he said. “This is on my generation of leaders – It is on our watch that we have allowed this to continue to fester.”

At the same time he cautioned that Americans had to balance the “relatively few officers that blemish the reputation of their high calling” [with the honest and brave] “99 per cent of officers.”

But in the campaign of GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump there was no such nuance.

Mirroring the great display of sensitivity in the wake of the June massacre in Orlando, when Trump tweeted self-congratulations for his call that the killing spree was terrorism, one of his Virginia campaign officials fired off a tweet, that subsequently was deleted, as the Dallas killings unfolded – blaming the killings on Democratic nominee 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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