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THE STORY Civil rights is always an important election issue. But after recent racially charged killings and police clashes, it's taken center stage. BACK UP. In July, two black men named Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed during encounters with police officers. Parts of both killings were caught by witnesses on tape and went viral. Cue outrage and protests around the country about the level of police force used. During one of those protests in Dallas, TX, a sniper opened fire on police officers, killing five of them in a pre-planned attack. It was the deadliest day for US law enforcement since 9/11. HOW HAVE PEOPLE REACTED? Strongly. Some, including those with the Black Lives Matter movement, are calling for police reform. Others, including the Blue Lives Matter movement, are calling for solidarity with local police departments. Many are hoping to do both. But these killings, and others over recent years, have highlighted how deeply divided the US is on issues like race and law enforcement. WHERE DID THIS ALL START? With Trayvon Martin. In 2012, the black, unarmed 17-year-old was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman wasn’t charged until weeks later, and in 2013 was found not guilty of second degree murder. That was when the Black Lives Matter movement really began. WHAT THEN? The tipping point was Ferguson, MO. In 2014, unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson after an altercation. That led to weeks of protests. People holding signs and wearing shirts reading “black lives matter” gave the phrase national name cred. Then there was Eric Garner, the unarmed black NY man who died while being put in a chokehold by a white police officer. In both his case and Brown’s, grand juries chose not to charge the officers involved. There was also the death of Freddie Gray. And Walter Scott. And Sandra Bland. These led to more and more protests around the US, with people questioning the level of violence used by local police. HOW HAS THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION HANDLED ALL THIS? The Justice Department has opened civil rights investigations into police forces all around the country. In many cases – including in Ferguson, MO – these investigations have shown systemic racism and abuse of power. Major reforms have been ordered. TBD on whether overhauling these local PDs will make real change. WHAT DO THE CANDIDATES SAY? Hillary Clinton…We have to face up to the reality of systemic racism in this country, and change laws and systems to make sure minorities are getting the same opportunities as everyone else. As for that 1994 crime law passed under Bill’s watch? Hint: the one that led to the mass imprisonment of blacks for nonviolent crimes? Sorry.

Donald Trump…”All Lives Matter” and that should be the motto of this country. And also we have to stand with law enforcement. But also every American has the right to live in safety and peace. And also, I'll make America safe again. theSKIMM The country is seriously divided over how to move forward. And even though real change will have to come at state and local levels, who the US elects as president will be leading that push.