More than 200 people have been arrested across the United States during protests over police violence towards black people, as authorities revealed the man who shot five police officers at a peaceful protest in Dallas had apparently been plotting a major bomb attack.
Anger around America over the deaths of two black men at the hands of police last week — the stated reason for the black Dallas gunman’s deadly rampage targeting white officers — showed no signs of abating with a prominent Black Lives Matter activist among those arrested.
President Barack Obama cautioned protesting Americans against casting all police as racially biased, as the White House announced he would travel to Dallas on Tuesday to address an inter-faith memorial service.
“If we paint police in broad brush without recognising that the vast majority of police officers are doing a really good job … then we’re going to lose allies in the reform cause,” he said.
The past week’s violence has shocked a country seemingly inured to its epidemic of gun violence and injected new urgency into the national debate on race relations and how white police forces deal with black suspects.
“The best way to honour the memory of Alton Sterling, the Dallas law enforcement officers and Philando Castile is to protect the people here,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said, referring to those killed in recent days.
Protesters will not be “allowed to incite hate and violence, to engage in unlawful activities”, he added.
Most of the protests from Saturday night into Sunday afternoon (local time) were peaceful.
People inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement — which arose in recent years in response to repeated cases of police using lethal force against unarmed black people — took to the streets in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
But authorities said a full-scale riot broke out in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and resulted in 102 arrests.
Protesters blocked a freeway and attacked police with rocks, bottles, fireworks, Molotov cocktails and metal bars, police said. Twenty-one officers were injured in the hours-long melee.
One officer was hurt when a rioter dropped a 10-kilogram chunk of concrete on his head from a bridge or overpass, police spokesman Steve Linders said.
It was in a Saint Paul suburb that one of last week’s deaths occurred. Both killings were caught on video that has since gone viral.
In Baton Rouge, where the other black detainee died, more than 100 protesters were also arrested, local media reported citing police, among them prominent activist leader DeRay McKesson who live-streamed the incident.
“Police have been provocateurs all night,” he says in the video. “We aren’t blocking the street or anything”
A spokesman for the East Baton Rouge Parish Jail said Mr McKesson was later released on $500 bond after being charged with obstructing a highway.
“The only people that were violent last night were the Baton Rouge police department,” Mr McKesson told reporters outside the jailhouse.
“The protesters remain peaceful both here and across the country.”
More than 500 people have died from US police bullets so far in 2016, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.
New details about Dallas shooter Micah Johnson were released on Sunday, fleshing out a still sketchy portrait of the 25-year-old US Army reservist and Afghanistan war veteran who apparently supported black militant organisations, some classified as hate groups.
Police said the Dallas ambush shooter had taunted police negotiators and scrawled on a wall in his own blood before he was ultimately killed in the standoff.
He had opened fire on Thursday evening with a powerful rifle during a peaceful protest against the shooting deaths of the two men in Louisiana and Minnesota, triggering hours of chaos in the downtown section of the big Texas city.
A search of Johnson’s Dallas-area home turned up bomb-making materials and a manual in which he wrote about military tactics.
Police now believe he had been planning something big long beforehand, and that the two black deaths last week were a trigger that prompted him to act, Dallas police chief David Brown told CNN on Sunday.
“[Investigators believe] based on evidence of bomb-making materials and a journal that the suspect had been practicing explosive detonations and that the materials were such that it was large enough to have devastating effects throughout our city and our north Texas area”, Mr Brown said.
“We’re convinced that this suspect had other plans.
“[The deaths in Minnesota and Louisiana] just sparked his delusion to fast-track his plans and [he] saw the protest in Dallas as an opportunity to begin wreaking havoc on our officers,” Mr Brown said.
Johnson was ‘laughing at us, singing’
Johnson toyed with police as he negotiated with them during a standoff after he first started shooting, Mr Brown said.
“We had negotiated with him for about two hours. And he just basically lied to us, playing games, laughing at us, singing, asking how many did he get and that he wanted to kill some more,” Mr Brown said.
Mr Brown said he told officers to improvise a plan because sharpshooters could not get a view of Johnson as he hid behind a brick wall.
At one point, Johnson, apparently injured in an exchange of gunfire with police, wrote the letters “rb” in his blood on a wall at the community college where he had holed up.
Mr Brown said it was not immediately clear what those letters meant.