CLEVELAND — Another national tragedy threatens to overshadow the opening of the Republican National Convention after three police officers were killed and three others were wounded in a shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Security is already tight here and the convention is going forward as planned. But the killings, following the murder of five police officers in Dallas earlier this month, reinforced impressions that the nation is teetering on a crisis driven by deep racial, economic and political polarization.
Donald Trump, who will formally become the Republican presidential nominee this week, quickly seized on the developments in Louisiana to renew his call for tough tactics to restore law and order.
“We grieve for the officers killed in Baton Rouge today. How many law enforcement and people have to die because of a lack of leadership in our country?” Trump wrote in a Facebook post. “We demand law and order.”
Trump’s early response to the latest tragedy is another sign of his intention to conflate killings and domestic unrest at home with a spate of terror attacks abroad to make a case that weak leadership is leaving America deeply vulnerable and that a much firmer hand is needed in the White House.
“We are TRYING to fight ISIS, and now our own people are killing our police. Our country is divided and out of control. The world is watching,” Trump wrote in another tweet Sunday afternoon.
National security will be a major theme of the convention. Monday’s focus will be to “make America safe again.”
Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, was slower to respond, taking several hours before releasing a statement that said the shootings were “an assault on all of us.”
“There is no justification for violence, for hate, for attacks on men and women who put their lives on the line every day in service of our families and communities,” she said.
This summer’s violence has forced Clinton into a political balancing act, as she tries to highlight the feelings of police discrimination many African-American communities experience while also mourning police officers killed in the line of duty.
President Barack Obama condemned the violence Sunday from the White House briefing room.
“We as a nation have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence against law enforcement,” he said.
The assault on the police officers in Baton Rouge threw a spotlight on risks faced by law enforcement personnel on duty in Cleveland this week. Stephen Loomis, president of Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, told CNN that his union had urged Ohio Gov. John Kasich to temporarily restrict the state’s open carry gun laws during the convention.
“We are sending a letter to Gov. Kasich requesting assistance from him. He could very easily do some kind of executive order or something — I don’t care if it’s constitutional or not at this point,” Loomis said.
But Emmalee Kalmbach, Kasich’s press secretary, said in a statement that Ohio governors do not have the power to suspend federal and state constitutional rights or state laws.
The cycle of violence this summer, which also included a terror attack on an Orlando gay nightclub that killed 49 people, has deepened political divides. It has raised questions over whether there will ever be a resolution to the estrangement between African-American communities and the police that has sent racial tensions to levels not seen in years.
The killings have again exposed the chasm between Republicans and Democrats on gun control — with GOP leaders rejecting Democratic efforts to force bills proposing greater regulation on firearms through Congress.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who will speak at the convention noted the rising public anxiety after the latest shootings.
“This is a trying time for our country, and understandably, frustration is mounting,” Cruz said in a statement. “As we just saw in Dallas, this is a horrific act fueled by people who hate. Now more than ever, we must stand united and support the very people who put their lives on the line to protect us every day.”
Obama, who cut short a trip to Europe last week over the Dallas killings, hailed the bravery of the slain police officers at a memorial service in Texas last week but also warned of the despair of minority communities who see the criminal justice system as biased against them. He said the violence had exposed the deepest fault lines in American democracy and warned that the nation is shocked and fearful.
But ultimately, he argued the country’s divides were not as acute as they often seem.