The president was joined by VP Biden, G.W. Bush at a memorial service for fallen officers
David Taffet | Senior Staff Writer
President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush — in Dallas to speak at the Tuesday, July 12 memorial service for the five officers killed July 7 following a Black Lives Matter protest rally — both spoke this week of the need to heal and to unite to bridge the growing chasm between the black community and police departments nationwide
The memorial service, coincidentally, took place on the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at an Orlando gay bar that left 49 people dead and 53 more wounded. While a congressional committee marked the day by debating new ways to discriminate against the LGBT community, Obama noted the anniversary differently. He said the goal of the killer in Dallas was the same as the shooters’ in Orlando and at Charleston’s Emanual AME Church last year in June — to divide the country.
“With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right,” Obama said. “But as Americans, we can decide that people like this killer [in Dallas] will ultimately fail. They will not drive us apart. We can decide to come together and make our country reflect the good inside us, the hopes and simple dreams we share.”
The president was last of the afternoon’s speakers and didn’t go to the podium until after 2:30 p.m. Most people attending arrived by 11 a.m.
Outside the hall, Arlington police, assisted by officers from other DFW Metroplex police departments, handled traffic and security. Barricades kept most onlookers across the street from the Meyerson and created a maze for those going into the hall.
But police were friendly and helpful to those trying navigate the labyrinth of barricades.
Inside the Meyerson, Secret Service took over security, working professionally and quickly to ensure everyone’s safety while at the same time keeping the line of guests waiting to enter moving efficiently. Meyerson staff and volunteers were also on hand to help direct guests to the proper seating areas.
By the time the president and his entourage arrived, 2,500 people had filled the Meyerson. Uniformed officers packed most of the main orchestra section of the symphony hall, with the first five rows reserved for family of the victims. Each time family members arrived, escorted by police, the crowd stood, applauded and wiped away tears.
The Dallas Police Choir was joined on stage by singers from six area church choirs. They began with a powerful rendition of “Love is Stronger than Hate.”
In addition to state and local officials who appeared on stage, governors Jay Nixon of Missouri and Suzanna Martinez of New Mexico attended. Mayors from New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Lewisville and Columbia flew in for the event. A police honor guard from Friendswood, south of Houston, sat upstairs. One Friendswood officer said it was an honor to be there for the families of the fallen officers.
Mayor Mike Rawlings welcomed everyone, noting they were there to comfort the families of the victims and “to honor those who were wounded, not only in body but soul,” acknowledging how hurt everyone on the police force is. Police Chief David Brown said earlier in the day he might require his officers to go through counseling, so that officers don’t have to request it.
The Rev. Sheron Patterson of the United Methodist Church of North Texas, Rabbi Andrew Paley of Temple Shalom and Imam
Omar Suleiman of Valley Ranch Islamic Center each offered prayers for unity, healing and peace.
Before the president spoke, Sen. John Cornyn, Brown and Bush offered some remarks.
Sen. John Cornyn thanked Rawlings and Brown for the strength they’ve shown since the ambush, calling them men of uncommon courage. He praised Dallas police officers for the way they ran toward the bullets, shielded citizens and sacrificed their own lives.
“They put the people of Dallas before themselves,” Cornyn said.
After receiving a standing ovation, Bush said, “Today our nation grieves. Those of us who call Dallas home lost five members of our family.” He said the Dallas Police Department has been an inspiration for the rest of the country, and added, “We are grief stricken, heartbroken and forever grateful.”
Rawlings introduced DART Police Chief James Spiller saying, “Leadership is hard. Great leadership is unique. We experienced that leadership from James Spiller.” As he introduced Brown, whom he called “a rock” and “my friend,” the auditorium erupted into a standing ovation, the longest and loudest of the day, complete with whistles and cheers.
Brown said when he was young, he wasn’t good at asking girls out. So he would memorize lyrics to songs by Al Green and the Isley Brothers. But when he really loved a girl, he’d turned to the music of Stevie Wonder. “Today, I’m going to pull out some Stevie Wonder for these families,” Brown said, proceeding to recite the words to “I’ll Be Lovin You Always.”
The president followed Brown, beginning his speech by saying, “ I’m so glad I met Michelle first, because she loves Stevie Wonder.”
He followed that with a tribute to each of the officers. Before the event, he met with the wounded and he talked about the son of Shetamia Taylor, who brought her children to the demonstration. Her 12-year-old son told the president he wants to become a Dallas police officer someday.
“Despite the fact police conduct was the subject of the protest, the men and women of the Dallas Police Department did their jobs,” Obama said, noting that the officers had posted photos of themselves with demonstrators on social media before the shooting started.
Throughout his speech, the president expressed frustration that he “hugged too many families” of people killed in similar incidents during his eight years in the White House. But he praised the Dallas police, who “didn’t flinch and didn’t act recklessly,” and through their actions, “saved more lives than we will ever know.”
He praised Brown for being at the forefront of improving relations between police and the residents of the city, and called DPD a national model for the way a police department should be run. But he enumerated the shortcomings that too often plague police departments in this country.
“We ask police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves,” Obama said, echoing frustrations Brown expressed yesterday. “We refuse to fund drug treatment. We flood communities with guns.”
The theme that’s emerged this week in Dallas is unity. People of different religious and political backgrounds have come together. At a memorial service at Thanksgiving Square last Friday, July 8, one pastor even urged straight people to hold the hand of a gay person.
That unity was clear among those on stage, especially between Michelle Obama and George W. Bush. While others were speaking, Bush kept whispering to Michelle Obama and she’d answer. The two were acting like old friends who hadn’t seen each other in awhile. Laura Bush and, while others were speaking, Barack Obama were continually glancing over at them, smiling or making faces at their interactions.
Everyone stood for the closing of the event as the choirs sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Michelle Obama took Bush’s hand and both began singing along. The president and former first lady then took their spouses’ hands. The three clergy seated directly behind them joined hands. Rawlings took his wife’s hand and she took Brown’s.
Just to emphasize that unity, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson joined hands with Sen. Ted Cruz. Seated above in the choral terrace, the Dallas City Council held hands. The rest of the audience joined them, singing and swaying while all holding hands.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2016.