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Dallas mourned its dead today, the police officers cut down by a sniper. The occasion was an interfaith memorial service, where President Obama offered reassurance and a summons to build a better country.
It was a moment to honor the five officers who died in Dallas and to speak to a nation on edge after days of bloodshed, protest and racial tension:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
It's as if the deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened.
And although we know that such divisions are not new, though they have surely been worse in even the recent past, that offers us little comfort.
Faced with this violence, we wonder if the divides of race in America can ever be bridged. 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.
The ceremony took place at the Meyerson Symphony Center, minutes from the site of the sniper attack that erupted during a peaceful protest last Thursday night. Five seats were left open, holding American flags and police caps, in tribute to the slain policemen.
And despite the fact police conduct was the subject of protest, despite the fact that there must have been signs, or slogans, or chants with which they profoundly disagreed, these men and this department did their jobs, like the professionals that they were.
The sniper, Micah Johnson, told negotiators, during a standoff, that he wanted revenge for police killings of black men, including last week in Baton Rouge and St. Paul. Those killings sparked widespread protests, and the president today urged each side to understand the other.
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 protest as troublemakers or paranoid.
We also know that 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.
Protesters, you know it. You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are. And you pretend as if there's no context. These things, we know to be true.
The president had cut short his trip to Europe to attend the service. He was joined by the first lady and Vice President and Mrs. Biden, as well as former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, who make their home in Dallas.
FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
Most of us imagine, if the moment called for, that we would risk our lives to protect a spouse or a child. Those wearing the uniform assume that risk for the safety of strangers.
They and their families share the unspoken knowledge that each new day can bring new dangers. But none of us were prepared or could be prepared for an ambush by hatred and malice. The shock of this evil still has not faded.
Hundreds of others attended the tribute as well, among them, dozens of law enforcement officers from Galveston County, Texas. A local judge paid for a bus to bring officers on the 300-mile pre-dawn trip.
In the end, the president lamented he had spoken to too many memorial services during his time in the White House, and he appealed to Americans to look deep into their hearts.
And if we cannot talk about these things, if we cannot talk honestly and openly, not just in the comfort of own circles, but with those who look different than us or bring a different perspective, then we will never break this dangerous cycle. In the end, it's not about finding policies that work. It's about forging consensus and fighting cynicism and finding the will to make change.
After the service, the Obamas met privately with officers wounded in the attack, as well as the families of those killed. Funerals for the slain officers begin tomorrow.
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