Obama at Dallas shooting memorial: 'We are one American family'
When gunfire erupted in downtown Dallas Thursday night, police did not flinch.
“They did not behave recklessly,” President Barack Obama said. “They showed incredible restraint.”
The officers answered their call, he said, running toward the shooter and moving the people they are entrusted to protect out of harm’s way.
“We mourn fewer people today because of your brave actions,” Obama said at Tuesday’s memorial service for the five officers who died during the sniper attack.
“Everyone was helping each other,” he said. “It wasn’t about black and white.
“See, that’s the America I know.”
Speaking the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, filled with police officers, victims’ families and members of the media, Obama talked about the mood of the nation as it grapples with the divisive issues that prompted the Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas, which preceded the ambush.
But mostly the president praised the fallen officers and the city they served. The officers were maintaining the rule of law, “a hard and daily labor,” Obama said.
“… That’s what these five were doing last Thursday when they were assigned to protect and keep orderly a peaceful protest in response to the killing of Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge and Philando Castile of Minnesota. They were upholding the constitutional rights of this country.”
The dead officers include:
▪ Patrick Zamarripa, Dallas police, 32, a Fort Worth Paschal High School graduate and father who served three tours in Iraq;
▪ Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, Dallas police, 48, of Burleson and father of two;
▪ Sgt. Michael Smith, Dallas police, 55, of Carrollton and father of two;
▪ Michael Krol, Dallas police, 40, a Michigan native who had lived in Burleson and Fort Worth;
▪ Brent Thompson, DART police, 40, of Corsicana, a father, grandfather and newlywed.
“The pain we feel may not soon pass, but my faith tells me that they did not die in vain,” Obama said. “Weeping may endure for a night, but I’m convinced joy comes in the morning. We cannot match the sacrifices made by officers Zamarripa and Ahrens, Krol, Smith, and Thompson, but surely we can try to match their sense of service. We cannot match their courage, but we can strive to match their devotion.
May God bless their memory. May God bless this country that we love.”
Rawlings: ‘Proud of my city, our city’
The message of unity was strong; the service featured an interfaith choir representing six churches and faith leaders from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities, each of whom offered prayers.
Seats were set aside for the five fallen officers, each bearing a folded flag and service hat. They were remembered as officers who proudly served their community, cherished as men who loved their families.
The Meyerson seats 2,200 for concerts. A spokeswoman for Mayor Mike Rawlings’ office estimated attendance for the service at 2,500, which included press, the choir on the stage and volunteers.
Rawlings opened the service, saying the “soul of our city was pierced” by the actions of a lone gunman Thursday in downtown Dallas.
He welcomed the guests, saying “today we open our city’s doors to our friends and neighbors. We realize our pain is your pain.”
Rawlings talked about the “absurd violence” on our streets and the commitment shown by police, “our men in blue.”
He praised the city and its police force, saying, “I’m in awe of our Dallas police officers,” a line that received a standing ovation.
He ended by professing his love for Dallas.
“I have never been more proud of my city, our city,” Rawlings said.
“I have asked why us,” Rawlings said. “In my moments of self-doubt, I’ve discovered the truth. That we did nothing wrong.”
Bush: ‘Today the nation grieves’
Former President George W. Bush, a Dallas resident since leaving the White House, said it’s been a difficult few days because those who call Dallas home “have had five deaths in the family.”
“Today the nation grieves. … We are proud of the men we mourn,” Bush said.
He praised the Dallas Police Department, noting that it is “mighty and courageous,” and the fallen, saying “these slain officers were the best among us.”
And he said the community is “grief-stricken, heart-broken and forever grateful.”
Bush ended by addressing the families — the wives, the children — of the officers.
“Today, all of feel a sense of loss, but not equally. … Your loved ones time with us was too short,” Bush said.
He said they responded when they went where duty called and “finished well.”
“Your loss is unfair,” Bush said. “We cannot explain it. We can stand beside you and share your grief.
“And we can pray that God will comfort you with a hope deeper than sorrow and stronger than death.”
Political leaders come together
Police Chief David Brown, who received a rousing ovation, spoke briefly before introducing Obama, and talked about how he used to quote singer/songwriter Stevie Wonder when trying to woo young girls as a teenager growing up in South Oak Cliff.
Brown then recited the lyrics of Wonder’s I’ll Be Loving You Always to share his feelings toward the families of the fallen officers.
That led Obama to say, “I’m so glad I met Michelle first because she loves Stevie Wonder.”
Obama was referencing to first lady Michelle Obama who was among the many dignitaries present, along with Vice President Joe Biden, his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and former first lady Laura Bush.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas rode with the Obamas on Air Force One. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins greeted the president on the Love Field tarmac.
Cruz, a steady critic of the president, accepted an invitation from Obama to fly on the presidential jet.
“At a time when our country is so 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,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who underwent skin grafts Tuesday to repair damage to both of his feet after being burned last week by scalding water, did not attend the memorial but was represented by his wife, Texas first lady Cecilia Abbott.
Obama: ‘Deserving of our respect’
During his approximately 40-minute speech, Obama urged both police and communities to open their hearts to one another’s struggles.
“With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged and … more about joining sides to do right,” he said.
He also praised Dallas police and all officers who work to protect their communities.
“We know that the overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professionally. They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn.”
Obama said he has spoken at too many memorials during his presidency and knows that racial divisions exist.
“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. And I know that because I know America. I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds,” Obama said. “And I know it because of what we’ve seen here in Dallas — how all of you, out of great suffering, have shown us the meaning of perseverance and character, and hope.”
In the aftermath of the ambush, Obama said he witnessed Rawlings and Brown — a white man and a black man — work together to unify the community “with strength and grace and wisdom.”
“These men, this department — this is the America I know,” Obama said.
He quoted scripture in offering a blueprint for making change stick, saying “let us love not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.
“If we’re to sustain the unity we need to get through these difficult times, if we are to honor these five outstanding officers who we’ve lost, then we will need to act on the truths that we know,” Obama said.
Big crowd at Dallas park
The memorial service was not open to the public, but a huge screen was set up at Klyde Warren Park, where at least 800 people paid tribute to those who died. While some sat on the grass lawn and baked, others crowded in the shade, bowing in prayer, listening, occasionally applauding.
Mother and daughter, Stephanie and Ebony Cooksey, came to the downtown park to show their support.
“We wanted to get as close as we could and this park is it,” Ebony Cooksey said. “When you’re hurting, you need to know someone is on your side.”
“We’re presenting a united front,” Stephanie Cooksey said.
Shelton Russell was in town from Raleigh, N.C. for a conference when he made his way over to the park on break to hear what the local and national leaders were going to say in this time of tragedy.
“It’s important for him to show connection and solidarity with Dallas,” Russell said of Obama. “It also gives him a chance to talk about other societal issues, this tragedy brings it all together.”
Obama, who ordered flags at all public buildings to be flown at half-staff until sunset today, cut short a European trip for his last NATO summit after learning about the ambush.
Killer’s name not mentioned
The five officers were killed — nine other officers and two civilians were wounded — as a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality began to wind down.
Obama noted that despite the fact that police conduct was the subject of the protest, “these men and this department did their jobs like the professionals that they were” and even helped in the planning of the march.
Bush said “none of us were prepared for an ambush of hatred and malice” that began at 8:58 p.m.
Sniper Micah Johnson, 25, a troubled Army veteran and loner from Mesquite, began his attack while perched in the El Centro Community College building before moving down to the street, where he continued to fire.
He was eventually cornered in the college’s parking garage, where he continued to exchange gunfire with police.
After hours of intense negotiations — Brown said Johnson sang and laughed as he spewed hatred about white people, “especially police officers” — authorities deployed a robot armed with C-4 explosive to take out Johnson.
Johnson’s name was not mentioned during the service.
Staff writers Azia Branson and Mitch Mitchell contributed this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.