"Dallas, I'm here to say we must reject such despair," President Obama said

By Tierney McAfee
Updated July 12, 2016 04:05 PM
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Credit: Larry W. Smith/EPA

President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush on Tuesday spoke at an interfaith memorial service in Dallas for the five police officers who were killed by sniper fire in the city late last week.

Bush, who now calls Dallas home, paid tribute to the nation’s law-enforcement community at large, saying, “Their courage is our protection and shield.” He also said he regretted that lately, “argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates too quickly into dehumanization. Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions. This has strained our bonds of understanding.”

Bush went on to praise the slain officers – Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa – as “the best among us,” calling the shooting attack “an ambush of hatred and malice.” “With their deaths we have lost so much,” he said. “We are grief-stricken, heartbroken and forever grateful.”

Obama later took the stage and began his remarks with a scripture reference.

“Scripture tells us that in our sufferings, there is glory. Because we know that suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance, character. And character, hope. Sometimes the truths of these words are hard to see,” Obama said. “Right now those words test us. Because the people of Dallas, people across the country are suffering.”

But the president urged Americans to “reject such despair” and disparity during these trying times.

“We turn on the TV or surf the Internet and we can watch positions harden and lines drawn and people retreat to their respective corners,” Obama said. “Politicians calculate how to grab attention or avoid the fallout. We see all this and it’s hard not to think sometimes that the center won’t hold. And that things might get worse. I understand. I understand how Americans are feeling. But, Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject such despair.”

“I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem,” he continued. “And I know that because I know America. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds. I know we’ll make it because of what I’ve experienced in my own life. What I’ve seen of this country and its people, their goodness and decency as president of the United States.”

Obama said he has seen protesters and police officers grieving side by side for the slain officers, as well as the two black men recently killed in police shootings, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

“In this audience I see what’s possible,” Obama said. “I see what’s possible when we recognize that we are one American family. All deserving of equal treatment. All deserving equal respect. All children of God. That’s the America I know.”

The president also criticized the instinct some have to dismiss the shared experiences of those in the black community, saying, “When all this takes place more than 50 years after the passage of the civil rights act? We cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protests as troublemakers or paranoid. You can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of police correctness or reverse racism. To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and co-workers and fellow church members, again and again and again? It hurts. Surely, we can see that. All of us.”

Obama also called on society to do its part to help ease racial tensions, echoing remarks made earlier this week by Dallas Police Chief David Brown. “So much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves,” Obama said. “As a society we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs.”

Related Video: President Obama Speaks Out on ‘Vicious, Calculated and Despicable Attack’

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings also spoke at the service, saying that the “soul of our city was pierced” by the shootings, and calling for the nation’s leaders to wage a “battle against violence and separatism.”

“We mourn together – and together is the key word here,” Rawlings said.

Former First Lady Laura Bush, Vice President Joe Biden and wife Dr. Jill Biden also attended the service, as well as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who accompanied Obama to Dallas on Air Force One.

Of the president’s invitation to Cruz, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One, “At a time when our country is do divided, I think it is important that the country’s leaders are coming together across party lines despite significant political differences to emphasize a shared desire to unify the country.”

Earnest added that the president worked on his Tuesday remarks “late into the night, consulting scripture.”

After the service, Obama and Bush are expected to meet with the family members of victims, at least four out of five of whom will be laid to rest this week.

The president, who cut short a European trip to travel to Dallas, initially spoke out about the shootings from a NATO summit in Poland, saying, “I believe I speak for every single American when I say we are horrified over these events, and we stand united with the people and the police department in Dallas.”

He went on to call the shooting a “vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement,” adding that it is a “a wrenching reminder of the sacrifices [police] make for us.”

The president has been careful not to be seen as taking sides amid the growing unrest over police-involved shootings. En route to Dallas aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, the president called the family members of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to offer his and the first lady’s condolences for the deaths of their loved ones.