UPDATED: 8:40 p.m. EDT -- President Barack Obama called for unity between local law enforcement and the communities they serve during a town hall in Washington, D.C., Thursday night hosted by ABC News.
"I don’t want a generation of young people to grow up thinking either that they have to mistrust the police or alternatively, that the police who are doing a good job and out there, taking care of their communities that they’re constantly at risk not just from criminals but also because of the community mistrusts them," Obama said.
The town hall was held just more than a week after two separate high profile incidents in which two black men were killed by white police officers under what appeared to be questionable circumstances. The killings -- Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on July 5 and Philando Castile in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota, on July 6 -- reportedly inspired Micah Johnson, a veteran of the U.S. Army, to act as a sniper on July 7 in Dallas during a peaceful protest against police brutality and enact "payback" against law enforcement by shooting 12 police officers, five of them fatally.
That led to Obama's visit Tuesday to lead a memorial service, where he said "our righteous anger can be transformed into more justice and more peace." Still, there were some angry and tense moments Thursday night during the town hall.
Erica Garner -- the daughter of Eric Garner, who was killed in 2014 by New York Police Department officers when they attempted to subdue him for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes -- took umbrage Thursday night when she was prevented from speaking to Obama during the town hall.
"I was railroaded!" Erica Garner yelled shortly before the event, which was taped ahead of the broadcast. "That's what I have to do? A black person has to yell to be heard?"
Following the event's taping, Obama made sure that Erica Garner was heard, the Wall Street Journal reported.
"After the ABC-hosted town hall that was taped this afternoon, the president had a brief opportunity to visit with Erica Garner who was upset that she didn’t get called on to ask a question,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick questioned Obama's support for law enforcement during the town hall, clearly raising the ire of the president, Politico reported. Patrick said in part that Obama should "strongly condemn violence" against police, insinuating that the president had not. Obama responded to Patrick that by virtue of having to confront gun violence on a regular basis, he has a long history of speaking out against that type of violence, among others.
“You’d have to find any message that did not include a very strong support for law enforcement in all my utterances dating back to Ferguson because I rely on law enforcement to protect me and my family,” Obama said, referring to the killing of Michael Brown, 18, by Ferguson police in 2014. “I’ll be happy to send it to you."
Emotions are running high after two recent, separate incidents of black men being killed by members of law enforcement culminated last week in a vigilante sniper shooting 12 Dallas police officers, killing five of them. In response to the growing national outrage on the state of police relations with the communities they serve, President Barack Obama has planned a town hall-style event Thursday night to address the complicated intersection of race and policing in the U.S.
The town hall is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast from Washington, D.C. If you're unable to view it by watching your local ABC affiliate, you can always watch a live stream for free via a host of online options, including: ABC News, the ABC News Facebook page, ABC's YouTube page and on WatchESPN. You can also watch the YouTube video feed below.
The event, titled "The President and the People: A National Conversation," will be moderated by ABC's "World News Tonight" anchor David Muir and is expected to last for about one hour.
Obama is coming off a meeting Wednesday at the White House with various police chiefs, elected officials, Black Lives Matter activists and advocates of community policing. Afterward he penned a Facebook post that likely provides a glimpse into what he will be talking about Thursday night.
All of us have the power to make change in our own communities. So I want to ask you — no matter who you are or where you live — to do whatever you can to foster these conversations and find solutions for your community.
That’s the path out of moments like these. Not to withdraw, or shout each other down, but to reach out to each other -- even if it’s difficult -- and find some common ground.
The three consecutive deadly days started in Baton Rouge, where two police officers tried to subdue Alton Sterling the night of July 5 before they shot and killed the unarmed black man in front of a convenience store. The very next day a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a suburb of the capital city St. Paul, executed what appeared to be a routine traffic stop for a busted tail light. Instead, the episode ended with the driver, Philando Castile, being shot to death by the officer. In both cases, the officers involved claimed they feared for their lives.
One day later on July 7 during a peaceful demonstration in Dallas protesting law enforcement, Micah Johnson, a veteran who received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, acted as a sniper and shot 12 police officers at the protest, killing five of them. Before police were able to kill Johnson, he reportedly taunted law enforcement and admitted his actions were essentially revenge for the deaths of Sterling and Castile.
Obama visited Dallas Tuesday to honor the fallen police officers, and during a memorial there he offered some words of encouragement and optimism — a theme that the president is likely to revisit Thursday night during the town hall event — before attempting to legitimize the chorus of complaints from African-American citizens in the U.S. who are dissatisfied with the state of policing in their communities.
"We are not as divided as we seem. I know that because I know America," Obama said, using that as a segue to honor America's police forces. "The overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professionally. They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn."
Obama continued: "When African-Americans from all walks of life, from different communities across the country voice a growing despair at what they perceive to be unequal treatment ... we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as trouble makers or paranoid. We can't simply dismiss this as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, ... it hurts."