The New York Times’ front pages over the weekend dealt with the awful police-related events over the last few days, culminating with the assassination of five policemen in Dallas during a Black Lives Matter demonstration, “Three Summer Days Further Split Nation Already in Deep Turmoil.” Reporters Timothy Williams and Michael Wines quickly fanned the flames of racial discord, pointing a finger at “some whites who feel they are ceding their long-held place in society.” Another story lamented how the murders threatened to sabotage the "still-young civil rights movement" of Black Lives Matter.
First came the cellphone video of an African-American man being fatally shot by a Louisiana police officer, and the astonishing live feed of a Minnesota woman narrating the police killing of her African-American boyfriend during a traffic stop. Then came the horrific live television coverage of police officers being gunned down by a sniper at a march protesting the police shootings.
Police accountability and racial bias have been at the center of the civic debate since August 2014, when a black teenager was killed by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. Mass murders in Newtown, Conn.; Charleston, S.C.; Orlando, Fla., and too many other locales have revived gun violence as a social issue and national shame. Both black anger at police killings and the boiling frustrations of some whites who feel they are ceding their long-held place in society have been constant undercurrents in politics since January and the Iowa presidential caucuses.
Now, in the space of three days, the killings of two black men by Louisiana and Minnesota police officers and the retaliatory murders of five Dallas officers, this time by a black Army veteran, have coalesced all those concerns into a single expression of national angst. 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.
The Times seemed to equate newspaper and internet headlines with chanted death threats:
Since the Thursday night sniper attack the national conversation has swung between bitterness and despair over seemingly unbridgeable gulfs in society. The New York Post’s front page blared “CIVIL WAR.” The Drudge Report warned in a headline that “Black Lives Kill.” Some Minnesota protesters on Thursday night chanted, “Kill the police.”
The Times dredged up some economic excuses for the attacks.
There are some parallels today to the 1960s. Those riots were largely touched off by violent encounters between blacks and the police. Scholars say and statistics show that attacks on police officers became an increasingly frequent African-American response to decades of inequality and mistreatment at that time.
The reporters made a nod toward balance, before taking on the Marxist “inequality” theme again.
But on social media, there were salutes to the sniper, blame of the news media for dividing the nation, charges that black protesters had spread hysteria, calls for love, fear of civil war and laments that the country is headed toward an unbridgeable divide.
In interviews, a number of police officials said that they believed the only lasting solution to the violence and division was to end the glaring inequalities that fuel them, but that they saw little hope for that.
On Sunday’s front page, Michael Barbaro and Yamiche Alcindor’s report on how the murders of cops in Dallas might harm the Black Lives Matter movement came off more in sorrow than in anger: “Strides of Black Lives Matter Brought to a Halt.”
The tone of the report was that the most important tragedy of the night was the possible soiling of the reputation of “the still-young civil rights movement” of Black Lives Matter.
It felt like a watershed moment for a scattered and still-young civil rights movement.
Inside Black Lives Matter, the national revulsion over videos of police officers shooting to death black men in Minnesota and Louisiana was undeniable proof that the group’s message of outrage and demands for justice had finally broken through.
Even the white governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, in a pained public concession, embraced the movement’s central argument. “Would this have happened if those passengers -- the driver and the passengers -- were white?” he asked. “I don’t think it would’ve.”
Then, in an instant, everything changed.
Black Lives Matter now faces perhaps the biggest crisis in its short history: It is both scrambling to distance itself from an African-American sniper in Dallas who set out to murder white police officers and trying to rebut a chorus of detractors who blame the movement for inspiring his deadly attack.
Barbaro and Alcindor faulted conservatives for criticizing BLM.
For those who have harbored doubts or animosity toward Black Lives Matter -- among them police unions and conservative leaders -- the Dallas attacks are a cudgel that, fairly or not, they are eager to swing.
In Texas, several state officials, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, lashed out at the group, directly linking its tone and tactics to the killings. Mr. Patrick acknowledged that the demonstration in Dallas on Thursday night had been peaceful until the gunman struck, but he accused the movement of creating the conditions for what happened. “I do blame former Black Lives Matter protests,” he said.
But a bigger problem for Black Lives Matter, supported by many liberals, is that Mr. Johnson’s actions could jeopardize the movement’s appeal to a broader group of Americans who have gradually become more sympathetic to its cause after years of highly publicized police shootings.
But it was clear that the national conversation had changed. On social media, Black Lives Matter activists watched with dismay on Thursday night as a squall of outrage and mourning over the shootings of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile was suddenly overwhelmed by a furious outcry over the shooting of Dallas police officers and messages of rage directed at activists and protesters. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter was joined by #bluelivesmatter, a rival reference to police officers.
The Times finished up by blaming conservative commentators.
As conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh assailed Black Lives Matter as “a terrorist group committing hate crimes,” activists like Wendi Moore-O’Neal saw echoes of repeated attempts throughout American history, including efforts by the federal government, to discredit civil rights groups and leaders.