Local black leader calls for 'constructive' rage following shootings

- Across the country, there's a collective yearning to understand exactly what happened in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, and why killings of African Americans by police continue to happen.

The frustration is shared by the president, who paused during a NATO summit in Poland Thursday evening to say, "We are better than this."

"This is not just a black issue, not just a Hispanic issue, this is an American issue," said President Obama. "All fair-minded people should be concerned," he added.

Leaders in the Bay Area African American community say, while miles away, the police shootings hit close to home for many and being able to witness the deaths with their own eyes -- through videos posted online -- makes it an issue they cannot ignore.

"Until this time, you only had a Rodney King incident where the actual malice and mistreatment of African Americans by police wasn't a fable," said the Reverend Manuel Sykes, former president of the NAACP St. Petersburg Chapter.

Sykes said the videos are being interpreted in different ways, depending on the viewer, but the issue of race seems to be a prominent factor for many people.

Seconds after a police officer shot Philandro Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, his girlfriend started live-streaming the aftermath on Facebook. She said Castile told the officer he had a licensed gun, and he was shot moments later while reaching for his ID.

Just one day prior, several graphic videos were posted online showing Alton Sterling, of Baton Rouge, being taken down and shot by two officers. The officers said Sterling appeared to be reaching for a gun found in his pocket.

The disturbing shooting footage is behind an outcry by some who are calling for changes in police use of force practices.

Demonstrations were held across the country on Thursday, including in Sarasota.

Sykes said the pain and urge for justice many people are feeling could drive a wedge between communities and law enforcement.

"Other police officers are going to feel the tension, because they know that now the community is watching them closely, and whenever you have tension between two parties, it doesn't take much to set it off."

On Thursday night, five officers in Dallas were killed and several others shot in what investigators say was a response to the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota.

"This is the time for our community to come together and organize and vent this rage constructively," said Sykes, who urges young African Americans not to be "reactionary," in their response to the officer-involved shootings.

The Justice Department is investigating both the Minnesota and Louisiana shootings as the officers involved are on leave.

With several officer-involved shootings in recent history where officers have been cleared, Sykes said a major concern among the African American community is whether justice will be served.

"It's a fear that you're going to be treated unjustly, and the person who is armed to protect and serve can carry out his or her agenda, racial or otherwise, against you with immunity," added Sykes. "That's the fear...That there will never be a change in America when it comes to justice to African Americans, black men in particular."

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