DALLAS (UPI) — President Barack Obama called for unity and understanding and praised law enforcement officers around the United States Tuesday afternoon at a memorial service for the five officers killed in Dallas last week following what had been a peaceful protest.
Obama traveled to Dallas Tuesday with a contingent that included first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey.
During his remarks at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the president lamented the ongoing violence in the United States spawned by intolerance — such as Thursday’s ambush-style assault on multiple Dallas police officers who were on hand at a Black Lives Matter rally to demonstrate against last week’s shooting deaths of Alton Smith and Philando Castile.
“The people of Dallas, people across the country are suffering,” Obama said in his opening remarks, which briefly touched on each of the five fallen officers, who they were and what some of them did in the hours before their deaths.
“The night before he died, he bought dinner for a homeless man,” he said of DPD Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48, a 14-year veteran of the city’s force.
“When he was off duty, he could be found at church or playing softball with his two girls,” he said of Sgt. Michael Smith, 55, a former Army Ranger and 27-year DPD veteran.
Although he never mentioned the accused gunman, Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, he called the attack an act of “demented violence and racial hatred.”
“It’s hard to think sometimes that the center won’t hold and think it will get worse,” the president said. “I understand how Americans are feeling, but Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject such despair. We are not as divided as we seem. I know how far we have come against impossible odds. I know we will make it because of what I’ve experienced in my own life.”
Perhaps the greatest applause during Obama’s speech came when the president talked about Garland, Texas, resident Shetamia Taylor, who had attended the protest Thursday with her four young sons. Taylor, 37, had taken the boys to the rally to take a stand against the killing of black men by police officers.
When the shooting started, she acted as a human shield to protect one of her sons from the gunfire. She was shot in the leg but her boys were unharmed. The other three she could not shield with her body escaped injury, thanks in part to the efforts of responding officers.
“She said to Dallas police, ‘thank you for being heroes,'” Obama recounted. “And today, her 12-year-old son said he wants to be a cop. That’s the America I know.”
The president said during the service that he has attended “too many” memorials that stem from gun violence, and once again took umbrage with what he considers a lack of gun control in the United States — a position he has restated after every civilian mass shooting during his presidency.
“We flood communities with so many guns that it’s easier for a teenager to get his hand on a Glock than a computer or a book,” he said. “And then we tell the police, ‘You’re the social worker, you’re the parent’ … we tell them to keep that neighborhood in check. Then we feign surprise when, periodically, the tensions boil over.”
During his remarks, Bush, who owned a large stake in the city’s Major League Baseball team between 1989 and 1998, praised one of the killed officers, Patrick Zamarripa, for his heroism — and for being a “loyal Texas Rangers fan.”
“These slain officers were the best among us,” Bush said, calling the attack an “ambush of malice.”
“We are grief-stricken, heartbroken and forever grateful.”
Dallas police chief David Brown injected a bit of light-hearted humor during his remarks, in which he told mourners that during his younger days in the 1970s, he would often recite Stevie Wonder lyrics to young women he fell in love with.
“I’m gonna pull out some Stevie Wonder for these families,” he said, to warm applause. “Families, close your eyes and imagine me back in 1974 with an afro [hairstyle] and some bell bottoms.”
Brown then recited lyrics from Wonder’s 1977 single, “As.”
“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, I’ll be loving you,” he said.
Obama, who spoke immediately after Brown, also elicited some laughter from the crowd when he stepped up to the microphone.
“I’m so glad I met Michelle first, because she loves Stevie Wonder,” he said.
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