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Dallas Sniper Attack Is 'Catastrophic' To Building Trust With Police

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Jelani Cobb, a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine is the journalist behind a recent "Frontline" documentary "Policing The Police." He looked at allegations of police abuse in Newark, N.J. and the community there. Last night, Cobb had been talking to a friend who was at that protest in Dallas.

JELANI COBB: I was at the demonstration in Times Square, and the friend was at the demonstration in Dallas.

GREENE: And we should say there were demonstrations around the country in response to these...

COBB: Yeah, there were demonstrations around the country in response to the Sterling and Castile deaths. And so we were kind of comparing notes, in real time, about what kind of crowd came out, what was happening there. And as you may know that the protests in Times Square generated about maybe a dozen arrests that I saw. And my friend in Dallas was saying it seemed to be a generally respectful interaction between the protesters and police. Things were dwindling when she left. She left about 10 minutes, apparently, before the gunfire broke out.

GREENE: You mention the two names of African-American men who died this week in encounters with police. And that's what these protests and vigils and demonstrations around the country were in response to. I mean, Jelani, you and others have talked so much about - one of the keys to sort of get through this as a country is to build trust in communities between police departments...

COBB: Mhm.

GREENE: ...And the people they serve. How damaging is this week potentially?

COBB: It's catastrophic. Here's why - when people are saying - is you don't treat everyone like a suspect. And, you know, there are lots of people who are in the African-American community who were kind of saying - and one of the things you saw at the rally in Minnesota - was saying that Mr. Castile was a good guy. He, you know, worked at the schools and, you know, kids look up to him. And he should not have been seen in the same light as a common criminal. And the people made that assumption based upon the color of his skin.

And at the same time, you have police officers who are saying we don't know who has a weapon, who doesn't. And then it's further complicated by the fact that there are people who have weapons, who have them legally. But you can be someone who is a law-abiding citizen but still driving around with a, you know, potentially lethal firearm in your car. And an officer has to make the calculation about why that person has that firearm in a split second. And so we have seen kind of the worst-case scenarios of both of those fears. There are people saying there are people who have been killed on the circumstances that they should not have been by police. And on the same token, you are seeing police saying - like the Dallas situation - this is exactly why we are so tense around these issues of who has firearms. And so what we have is really a trench here, and I dont see how we resolve it. This very complicated situation has only grown more so in the past week.

GREENE: Yeah, I mean, if this has been catastrophic, as you describe, what do we do from here?

COBB: I have no idea. I think that there has to be some kind of meaningful conversation and not just kind of lip service around our relationship to guns. I think that's the commonality in all three of these incidents. It is the surfeit of weaponry we have in this country. And if we're going to have unregulated relationships with firearms, we're going to have circumstances like this continue.

GREENE: OK. That, of course, waging into to a debate that has been very loud and prolonged in this country. Jelani Cobb is a staff writer for the New Yorker. Jelani, thanks so much for taking the time this morning. We really appreciate it.

COBB: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.