WASHINGTON — “The soul of our city was pierced when police officers were ambushed in a cowardly attack,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said at the beginning of a memorial service Tuesday for the five slain officers.
President Barack Obama found himself in an all-too-familiar place when he led a tribute to more lives ended by a man with a gun.
Obama tried to help Dallas begin to heal after five of its police officers were slain in the line of duty. They were targeted by an Army veteran-turned-sniper during what Obama denounced as a “vicious, calculated and despicable attack” by a “demented” individual. They were killed while guarding a peaceful protest against the police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota last week. Obama’s spokesman says the president hopes to offer Dallas “some measure of comfort.”
Former President George W. Bush, a Dallas resident, also spoke.
“With their deaths we have lost so much.” he said. “We are grief-stricken, heartbroken and forever grateful.”
“At our best, we know we have one country, one future, one destiny,” he said.
“Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions,” he said.
Dallas police officers and other first responders were among those filling the 2,000 seats in the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, along with the families of the officers killed and injured in last week’s attack and two civilians who were wounded, city spokeswoman Patricia Blasquez told CNN.
Top officials from the city and nation were also there to honor the five officers and their loved ones. Police Chief David Brown also spoke.
The ceremony is not public, but the memorial was being simulcast at Klyde Warren Park, a short walk from the symphony hall. If the Monday night vigil for these officers outside City Hall was any indication, the 5-acre downtown park was expected to be at capacity. The White House website was also streaming the event.
In addition to their rare joint appearance, Obama and Bush will also meet with the families of the slain officers. The two men will see the families following the memorial service, Blasquez said.
Obama warned Tuesday that a week of violence and racial tension exposed the deepest fault lines in American democracy, but urged Americans not to despair because the nation would overcome its divides.
“I understand, I understand how Americans are feeling,” Obama said at an interfaith service for five police officers gunned down in Dallas last week.
The President told relatives of those killed and law enforcement and community leaders that the events of last week had exposed the “deepest fault lines of our democracy” and even widened them.
But he insisted: “We are not as divided as we seem. I know that because I know America.”
Obama said that police officers in Dallas and around the country had embraced their profession that came with risks like no other.
“From the moment you put on that uniform you have answered a call that at any moment, even in the briefest interaction, may put your life in harm’s way,” Obama said, but also mentioned how many African American communities believed they were treated unfairly by police.
An interfaith choir opened Tuesday afternoon’s service, and the Dallas Police Choir performed the national anthem. An imam, rabbi and Methodist reverend from the area delivered an interfaith prayer before the speakers take the podium.
Obama spoke last before an interfaith choir — composed of singers from area churches — joined the Dallas Police Choir in closing with “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
So goes the song, “As ye deal with my contemners so with you my grace shall deal/Let the hero born of woman crush the serpent with His heel since God is marching on/Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama made the callas aboard Air Force One as he flew to Dallas on Tuesday.
Earnest said the president offered condolences on his behalf and first lady’s, as well the American people.
Valerie Castile’s brother, Tracy Castile, said his sister had been invited to Tuesday’s memorial service for the five police officers slain during a protest over the death of Castile and Alton Sterling, who was killed by police last week in Louisiana. Tracy Castile said his sister chose to stay in Minnesota to focus on her son.
Valerie Castile said she was ecstatic to get the president’s call.
The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.