Obama, Bush Join Texas Leaders At Dallas Vigil

President Obama speaks at a memorial for slain Dallas police officers on July 12.EXPAND
President Obama speaks at a memorial for slain Dallas police officers on July 12.
Melissa Hennings

As typically happens when the president of the United States goes anywhere, there were cops everywhere. Cops directing traffic around the Arts District and the rest of downtown. Cops with rifles stationed at the barricades keeping pedestrians from getting anywhere near the Meyerson Symphony Center before, during and after Dallas' Tuesday interfaith vigil.

The Secret Service were also present, as President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush joined Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas Police Chief David Brown to speak at the vigil.

Most of all, there were cops packed inside the Meyerson, gathered to mourn their fallen comrades, killed in action in an ambush that followed a downtown Dallas protest against police brutality Thursday night.

Five empty chairs placed on stage left honored the fallen, Dallas Police Department officers Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens, and DART Police Department officer Brent Thompson. Their families sat in reserved seats in front of the stage, with police officers from Texas and across the country filling the symphony hall's lower sections. Misty McBride, a DART police officer injured in the shooting, received a standing ovation as she made her way to her seat, the first of a day that would see many.

For those gathered, the theme of the day, as it has been since Thursday night, was unity.

"[Our state politicians] are here because they know we have a common disease, the absurd violence on our streets," Rawlings said. "To wage this battle against violence and separatism, we must promote unity between police and those who protest them."

The mayor said that he's searched, in the days and hours that've followed the biggest loss of law enforcement officers on U.S. soil since 9/11, for what Dallas or its police department could've done differently to avoid the tragedy.

He hasn't found it, he said.

"We did nothing wrong. In fact, Dallas is very, very good," he said. "We have the best police in the country. I am in awe of our police officers."

His city will move forward, he said. "We will weep; we will not whine. We have too many bridges to build that we will cross together," Rawlings said.

Former President Bush lives in Dallas, and the heart he has for the city showed in his emotional remarks. "Disagreement often turns into dehumanization," he said. "Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples and judge ourselves by our best intentions."

Brown's reception from his troops and the rest of the crowd was more like something you'd hear at a sporting event. He offered moments of surprising levity in the somber chamber. Admitting he has trouble speaking in public, Brown retreated to a tactic he'd used in an attempt to get dates in middle school — quoting R&B lyrics.

Back then, the chief said, he might use Al Green or Teddy Pendergrass to woo a girl he liked. When he really loved someone, though, he said, he'd break out the Stevie Wonder — and he did just that for the families seated in the front rows, reciting the last verse and coda from "As."

The president praised Brown and his department for protecting and giving aid to protesters, with whom they might not have agreed, in the worst circumstances possible. He also noted that the department has helped lead the country toward community policing.

"It's hard not to think that the center won't hold and things won't get worse. I'm here to insist we are not as divided as we seem. I know that because I know America, I know how far we've come against impossible odds," Obama said.

People around the country, the president said, are mourning both the officers that died in Dallas and the deaths of the two black men — Alton Sterling of Louisiana and Philando Castile of Minnesota — that spawned the protest in Dallas.

He quickly disavowed any group that would take violent action against police. "They do a disservice to the very cause of justice that they claim to promote," he said.

Even if we can't match the sacrifices made by the officers that died Thursday night, the president said, we can try to emulate their sense of service to make a better United States. "I believe our sorrow can make us a better country," the president said.

After yet another standing ovation, this one for the president, Obama and the rest of the leaders on stage, including Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, held hands and sang along as an interfaith choir staffed by six churches sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

As they, and the rest of the crowd left, there was a single protester among hundreds of people gathered behind the barricades on Flora Street to support the officers. The woman, Maria del Alvarez, said she didn't care about what had happened, she was going to say her piece. She was quickly shouted down by a crowd led by a thirty-something black man.

"We love police," they chanted, drowning out del Alvarez's claims of mistreatment. It just wasn't the day for it.

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