Obama Calls for Unity at Dallas Memorial Service

     DALLAS (CN) – At a Tuesday interfaith memorial service honoring five murdered Dallas police officers, President Barack Obama lamented at how the public “ask police to do too much” in solving societal problems while “we ask too little” of ourselves.
     “We flood our communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to get his hands on a Glock than on a computer or a book,” Obama told a crowd of 2,000 police officers and dignitaries at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in downtown Dallas. “Then we tell the police to take care of it, to keep the neighborhoods in check at all costs and without any mistakes. We then feign surprise when things boil over.”
     Five flag-draped seats near the stage were left empty in memory of the five slain officers – Dallas Police Department Sgt. Michael Smith, 55; Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48; Officer Michael Krol, 40; Officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32; and Dallas Area Rapid Transit Officer Brent Thompson, 43.
     Obama spoke in detail about each officer during his 45-minute speech. He thanked black Dallas Police Chief David Brown and white Mayor Mike Rawlings for their leadership during the crisis.
     “The murder rate in Dallas has fallen, complaints of excessive force have fallen 64 percent,” Obama said as the crowd gave the men a standing ovation. “The Dallas Police Department is doing it the right way. Thank you for your steady leadership and powerful example, we could not be prouder of you.”
     Obama was saddened at how he has spoken at “too many memorials” comforting families of victims of senseless violence.
     “I have seen how a spirit of unity, born of tragedy, can gradually dissipate and be overtaken by a return to business as usual, by inertia, old habits and expediency,” he said.
     Obama walked a fine line of comforting both critics of police brutality and police supporters, saying the “overwhelming majority” of cops do their job fairly and with professionalism.
     “They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn. When anyone, no matter how good their intentions may be, paints all police as biased or bigoted, we undermine those officers we depend on for our safety,” he said.
     Obama urged citizens to not insult protesters against police brutality by dismissing them as “troublemakers,” saying that racial bias did not end with the passage of the Civil Rights Act or a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
     The president was introduced by Brown, who lightened the somber mood by sharing a personal story about reciting Teddy Pendergrass, Al Green and Stevie Wonder song lyrics to girls as a teenager.
     He read lyrics to the Stevie Wonder hit “As” in expressing his love for the victims’ families seated in the front row.
     “You’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called hell, change your words into truths and then change that truth into love, and maybe our children’s grandchildren, and their great-great grandchildren will tell,” Brown said. “I’ll be loving you, until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky, until the ocean covers every mountain high, until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea, until we dream of life and life becomes a dream.”
     Former President George W. Bush told the crowd that while the nation mourns, Dallasites “have had five deaths in the family.” He criticized how it seems the “forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces pulling us together.”
     “Arguments turn too easily into animosity,” Bush said to applause.
     “Disagreements escalate too quickly into dehumanization, often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”
     Bush said that what makes Americans unique is our values, that we have never been bound by blood.
     “We are bound by things of the spirit, by shared commitments to common ideals,” he said. “We do not want the unity of grief, nor do we want the unity of fear. We want the unity of hope, affection and high purpose.”
     The former president told the victims’ families that their loss is “unfair” and “we cannot explain” their loss.
     “We can stand beside you and share your grief,” he said. “We can pray that God will comfort you with a hope deeper than sorrow and stronger than death.”
     Mayor Rawlings said the “soul of our city was pierced” on Thursday, and that he has asked himself what mistakes officials have made leading up to it.
     “In my moments of self-doubt, I discovered the truth – that we did nothing wrong,” he said. “In fact, Dallas is very, very good.”
     Rawlings said that in spite of that, “there is a reason this happened” in Dallas.
     “This is our chance to lead and build a new model for a community, for our city and for our country,” he said. “To do that, there will be tough times ahead. We will mourn together, and together is the key word here.”
     In thanking Obama and dignitaries from neighboring cities and states, Rawlings said they are here “because they know we have a common disease, this absurd violence on our streets.”
     En route to Dallas on Air Force One, Obama made phone calls to the families of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in suburban Minneapolis to extend his condolences. Both black men died last week at the hands of police, and the viral videos of their deaths sparked outrage that resulted in the peaceful march in downtown Dallas before the shooting Thursday night.
     Obama was accompanied on the flight by First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, and Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Dallas.
     White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the president views the attack as a hate crime that “targeted” white police officers.
     “His actions were motivated by racial hatred,” Earnest said. “The hate crime laws that we have on the books don’t exist just to protect black people or minorities. They’re there to protect all Americans.”
     Several blocks of downtown remain closed Tuesday near the El Centro College campus where the shootings took place. Jury selection was cancelled for the day at the nearby George L. Allen Sr. Courts Building.
     The lone shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, of Mesquite, was killed Thursday night on the second floor of the community college via detonation of C-4 carried by a bomb-disposal robot.
     A law enforcement official told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Johnson used a Izhmash-Saiga 5.45mm high-powered rifle in the attack, and was also carrying a Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol and a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol. The rifle is a variant of AK-style military rifles. It is unknown if Johnson fired either pistol in the attack.
     Law enforcement officials told ABC-affiliate WFAA-TV that Johnson changed his plans for an attack to coincide with Thursday night’s protest and march.
     Police found one pound of Tannerite – a powder used to make targets explode during shooting practice – at the home Johnson shared with his mother, the Journal reported. Acetone was also found in the home, which can be combined with other materials to make explosives. Dallas police said they found bulletproof vests, rifles, ammunition and a “rambling” dairy detailing “shoot and move” combat tactics.
     Brown said Johnson told police negotiators that he was upset “with Black Lives Matter” and about the shootings of Sterling and Castile.
     “He said he was upset at white people,” Brown said Friday. “He said he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers. He stated he was not affiliated with any groups, and he stated he did this alone.”
     Brown said Johnson made several threats of explosives being planted throughout downtown, but no explosives were found.
     Brown made headlines Tuesday when he challenged protesters to join the police force to make a difference, saying he would have “done something” rather than protest if he were in their position.
     “We are hiring,” Brown said at a press conference. “Get off that protest line and put an application in. We will put you in your neighborhood and we will help you resolve some of the problems you are protesting about.”
     Funerals for the killed officers will begin Wednesday. A private funeral mass will be held in the morning for Sgt. Smith at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Farmers Branch.
     Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press.

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