U.S. President Barack Obama called the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to offer condolences before attending an interfaith memorial service to honor the five police officers killed in Dallas, Texas, on July 7.
President Obama reached out to the families of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and of Philando Castile, who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop last week in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, “to offer his and the first lady’s condolences on behalf of the American people,” the White House said.
According to the Washington Times, Barack Obama contacted the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile from Air Force One while on his way to Texas to attend an interfaith memorial service for the five Dallas officers who were killed by Micah Johnson during an otherwise peaceful protest last week.
Obama arrived in Dallas to speak at the memorial service with his wife, first lady Michelle Obama; Vice President Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill; and former president George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush. Ted Cruz also attended the event, and he and other lawmakers flew with the president on Air Force One, according to The Guardian.
“At a time when our country is do 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,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
Republicans and Democrats have been notoriously divided when it comes to passing even minimal gun control laws to combat rising gun violence in America.
“Unfortunately, it’s in moments of tragedy that this unity is revealed,” Mr. Earnest said.
The mayor of Dallas, Mike Rawlings, spoke to the audience about the bravery of the Dallas police and introduced the speakers.
Former President George W. Bush spoke before the current president at the memorial, saying that “the slain officers were the best among us.” He announced each of their names and gave some details about the men, and he also brought up the evil that took the men away.
Bush’s main message seemed to be hope for Americans to stand together and support brave police officers.
“To renew our unity we only need to remember our values,” Bush said.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown spoke about his difficulty in knowing what to say. He lightened the mood by talking about using love longs to express his feelings when he was younger. Then he recited lyrics from “I’ll Be Loving You Always” by Stevie Wonder to the audience at the memorial.
Barack Obama then took his place at the podium and joked, “I’m so glad I met Michelle first, because she loves Stevie Wonder.”
However, he returned to a serious mood, and talked about suffering and what it brings humans: perseverance, character, and hope. Obama talked about trying to find “meaning in the midst of sorrow.”
The president reminded everyone how the work of police officers is completely different than the work of others. The work of police officers is dangerous, and it can end in the loss of life.
Obama spoke about the bravery of the officers, their everyday lives, and the loss that the families left behind now have to deal with.
“Our entire way of life in America depends on the rule of law,” Obama stated.
The president stated that even though the police officers may have disagreed with some of the protesters who they were protecting the night the five officers were killed, they still interacted peacefully with the protesters, protected the protesters and their rights to voice their opinions, and protected them when they were targeted by a shooter driven by “demented violence” and “racial hatred.”
Obama said he was there to say that Americans must reject division, that they can overcome seemingly “impossible odds,” and that America is good, decent, and Dallas is a prime example of perseverance, character, and hope.
The president thanked the leaders in Dallas for their great example for being “the America I know” and said he knew that people in the audience simultaneously wept for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five slain officers in Dallas.
Obama warned people not to undermine officers by suggesting that they are all bad officers. Obama explained the hurt of centuries of racial divide and discrimination haven’t disappeared even though race relations have improved, but those who choose to ignore the hurt, dishonor the struggle people have endured. Barack Obama stated that people know bias and bigotry remains, and some African-Americans are unfairly targeted by the justice system.
Some officers clapped during this part of the speech, but some officers notably did not.
President Barack Obama encouraged everyone to talk openly and honestly about the situations that both police and African-Americans are facing and to “open our hearts to each other.”
[Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images]