President Obama Speaks at an Interfaith Memorial Service

President Obama Speaks at an Interfaith Memorial Service


(applause) David Brown:
Thank you so much. Thank you so much. When I was a teenager and
started liking girls. (laughter) I could never find the
right words to express myself. And after a couple words
they’d just walk away leaving me – (laughter) — figuring out what do I
need to do to get a date. And so being a music fan
of 1970’s rhythm and blues love songs I put together
a strategy to recite the lyrics – (laughter) — to get a date. So for girls I liked I
would pull out some Al Green, or some Teddy
Pendergrass, or some Isley Brothers and I would
recite the lyrics to their love songs. But for people I loved. If I fell in love with a
girl, oh I had to dig down deep and get some
Stevie Wonder. (laughter and applause) To fully express the
love I had for them. For the girl. So today, I am going to
pull out some Stevie Wonder for these families. (applause) So families close your
eyes and just imagine me back in 1974 with an afro,
and some bell bottoms, and wide collar. “We all know sometimes
life’s hate and troubles can make you wish you were
born in another time and place. But you can bet your
lifetimes that and twice as double that God knew
exactly where he wanted you to be placed. So make sure when you say
you’re not in it, but not of it you are not helping
to make this Earth a place sometimes called hell. Change your words into
truth and then change that truth into love, and
maybe you’re children’s grandchildren and their
great great- grandchildren will tell them
I’ll be loving you. Until the rainbow burns
the stars out of the sky I’ll be loving you. Until the ocean covers
every mountain high I’ll be loving you. Until the dolphin flies
and the parrots live at the sea I’ll
be loving you. Until we dream of life and
life becomes a dream I’ll be loving you. Until the day is night and
night becomes the day I’ll be loving you. Until the trees and seas
up up and fly away I’ll be loving you. Until the day that eight
times eight times eight times eight is four
I’ll be loving you. Until the day that is the
day that are no more I’ll be loving you. Until the day the Earth
starts turning right to left I’ll be loving you. Until the Earth just for
the sun denies itself I’ll be loving you. Until Mother Nature says
her work is through I’ll be loving you. Until the day that are you
are me and I am you, now aint that loving you?” (applause) “Until the rainbow burns
the stars out of the sky aint that loving you? Until the ocean covers
every mountain high, and I’ve got to say always
I’ll be loving you always.” And there is no greater
love than this. That these five men gave
their lives for all of us, it is my honor to
introduce to you the President of the United
States of America, President Barack Obama. Thank you. (applause) President Obama:
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Please. Thank you. Thank you very much. Mr. President and Mrs.
Bush; my friend, the Vice President, and Dr.
Biden; Mayor Rawlings; Chief Spiller; clergy;
members of Congress; Chief Brown — I’m so glad I met
Michelle first, because she loves Stevie Wonder — (laughter and applause) — but most of all, to the
families and friends and colleagues and
fellow officers: Scripture tells us that in
our sufferings there is glory, because we know
that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope. Sometimes the truths of
these words are hard to see. Right now, those
words test us. Because the people of
Dallas, people across the country, are suffering. We’re here to honor the
memory, and mourn the loss, of five fellow
Americans — to grieve with their loved ones, to
support this community, to pray for the wounded,
and to try and find some meaning amidst our sorrow. For the men and women who
protect and serve the people of Dallas, last
Thursday began like any other day. Like most Americans each
day, you get up, probably have too quick a
breakfast, kiss your family goodbye, and
you head to work. But your work, and the
work of police officers across the country,
is like no other. For 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. Lorne Ahrens, he
answered that call. So did his wife, Katrina
— not only because she was the spouse of a police
officer, but because she’s a detective on the force. They have two kids. And Lorne took them
fishing, and used to proudly go to their
school in uniform. And the night before he
died, he bought dinner for a homeless man. And the next night,
Katrina had to tell their children that
their dad was gone. “They don’t get it yet,”
their grandma said. “They don’t know what
to do quite yet.” Michael Krol
answered that call. His mother said, “He knew
the dangers of the job, but he never shied
away from his duty.” He came a thousand miles
from his home state of Michigan to be a cop
in Dallas, telling his family, “This is something
I wanted to do.” Last year, he brought his
girlfriend back to Detroit for Thanksgiving, and it
was the last time he’d see his family. Michael Smith answered
that call — in the Army, and over almost 30 years
working for the Dallas Police Association, which
gave him the appropriately named “Cops Cop” award. A man of deep faith, when
he was off duty, he could be found at church or
playing softball with his two girls. Today, his girls have lost
their dad, for God has called Michael home. Patrick Zamarripa, he
answered that call. Just 32, a former altar
boy who served in the Navy and dreamed of
being a cop. He liked to post videos of
himself and his kids on social media. And on Thursday night,
while Patrick went to work, his partner Kristy
posted a photo of her and their daughter at a Texas
Rangers game, and tagged her partner so that he
could see it while on duty. Brent Thompson
answered that call. He served his
country as a Marine. And years later, as a
contractor, he spent time in some of the most
dangerous parts of Iraq and Afghanistan. And then a few years ago,
he settled down here in Dallas for a new life of
service as a transit cop. And just about two weeks
ago, he married a fellow officer, their whole life
together waiting before them. Like police officers
across the country, these men and their families
shared a commitment to something larger
than themselves. They weren’t looking for
their names to be up in lights. They’d tell you the pay
was decent but wouldn’t make you rich. They could have told you
about the stress and long shifts, and they’d
probably agree with Chief Brown when he said that
cops don’t expect to hear the words “thank you” very
often, especially from those who need
them the most. No, the reward comes in
knowing that our entire way of life in America
depends on the rule of law; that the maintenance
of that law is a hard and daily labor; that in this
country, we don’t have soldiers in the streets
or militias setting the rules. Instead, we have public
servants — police officers — like the men
who were taken away from us. And 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. For a while, the protest
went on without incident. And despite the fact that
police conduct was the subject of the protest,
despite the fact that there must have been signs
or slogans or chants with which they profoundly
disagreed, these men and this department did
their jobs like the professionals
that they were. In fact, the police had
been part of the protest’s planning. Dallas PD even posted
photos on their Twitter feeds of their own
officers standing among the protesters. Two officers, black and
white, smiled next to a man with a sign that read,
“No Justice, No Peace.” And then, around nine
o’clock, the gunfire came. Another community
torn apart. More hearts broken. More questions about what
caused, and what might prevent, another
such tragedy. I know that Americans are
struggling right now with what we’ve witnessed
over the past week. First, the shootings in
Minnesota and Baton Rouge, and the protests, then the
targeting of police by the shooter here — an act not
just of demented violence but of racial hatred. All of it has left us
wounded, and angry, and hurt. It’s as if the deepest
fault lines of our democracy have suddenly
been exposed, perhaps even widened. And although we know that
such divisions are not new — though they have surely
been worse in even the recent past — that
offers us little comfort. Faced with this violence,
we wonder if the divides of race in America
can ever be bridged. We wonder if an
African-American community that feels unfairly
targeted by police, and police departments that
feel unfairly maligned for doing their jobs, can ever
understand each other’s experience. We turn on the TV or surf
the Internet, and we can watch positions harden and
lines drawn, and people retreat to their
respective corners, and politicians calculate how
to grab attention or avoid the fallout. We see all this, and
it’s hard not to think sometimes that the center
won’t hold and that things might get worse. I understand. 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. (applause) I know we’ll make it
because of what I’ve experienced in my own
life, what I’ve seen of this country and its
people — their goodness and decency –as President
of the United States. 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. When the bullets started
flying, the men and women of the Dallas police, they
did not flinch and they did not react recklessly. They showed
incredible restraint. Helped in some cases by
protesters, they evacuated the injured, isolated the
shooter, and saved more lives than we
will ever know. (applause) We mourn fewer people
today because of your brave actions. (applause) “Everyone was helping each
other,” one witness said. “It wasn’t about
black or white. Everyone was picking each
other up and moving them away.” See, that’s the
America I know. The police helped Shetamia
Taylor as she was shot trying to shield
her four sons. She said she wanted her
boys to join her to protest the incidents of
black men being killed. She also said to the
Dallas PD, “Thank you for being heroes.” And today, her 12-year old
son wants to be a cop when he grows up. That’s the America I know. (applause) In the aftermath of the
shooting, we’ve seen Mayor Rawlings and Chief Brown,
a white man and a black man with different
backgrounds, working not just to restore order and
support a shaken city, a shaken department, but
working together to unify a city with strength
and grace and wisdom. (applause) And in the process, we’ve
been reminded that the Dallas Police Department
has been at the forefront of improving relations
between police and the community. (applause) The murder rate
here has fallen. Complaints of excessive
force have been cut by 64 percent. The Dallas Police
Department has been doing it the right way. (applause) And so, Mayor Rawlings and
Chief Brown, on behalf of the American people,
thank you for your steady leadership, thank you for
your powerful example. We could not be
prouder of you. (applause) These men, this department
— this is the America I know. And today, in this
audience, I see people who have protested on behalf
of criminal justice reform grieving alongside
police officers. I see people who mourn for
the five officers we lost but also weep for the
families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In this audience, I
see what’s possible — (applause) — I see what’s possible
when we recognize that we are one American family,
all deserving of equal treatment, all deserving
of equal respect, all children of God. That’s the America
that I know. Now, I’m not naïve. I have spoken at too many
memorials during the course of this presidency. I’ve hugged too many
families who have lost a loved one to
senseless violence. And I’ve seen how a spirit
of unity, born of tragedy, can gradually dissipate,
overtaken by the return to business as usual, by
inertia and old habits and expediency. I see how easily we slip
back into our old notions, because they’re
comfortable, we’re used to them. I’ve seen how inadequate
words can be in bringing about lasting change. I’ve seen how inadequate
my own words have been. And so I’m reminded of a
passage in *John’s Gospel (First John) : 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. And that’s not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. But we’re going to have to
be honest with each other and ourselves. 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. (applause) And when anyone, no matter
how good their intentions may be, paints all police
as biased or bigoted, we undermine those officers
we depend on for our safety. And as for those who use
rhetoric suggesting harm to police, even if they
don’t act on it themselves — well, they not only
make the jobs of police officers even more
dangerous, but they do a disservice to the very
cause of justice that they claim to promote. (applause) We also know that
centuries of racial discrimination — of
slavery, and subjugation, and Jim Crow — they
didn’t simply vanish with the end of lawful
segregation. They didn’t just stop when
Dr. King made a speech, or the Voting Rights Act and
the Civil Rights Act were signed. Race relations have
improved dramatically in my lifetime. Those who deny it are
dishonoring the struggles that helped us achieve
that progress. (applause) But we know — but,
America, we know that bias remains. We know it. Whether you are black or
white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or of
Middle Eastern descent, we have all seen this bigotry
in our own lives at some point. We’ve heard it at
times in our own homes. If we’re honest, perhaps
we’ve heard prejudice in our own heads and felt
it in our own hearts. We know that. And while some suffer
far more under racism’s burden, some feel to
a far greater extent discrimination’s sting. Although most of us do our
best to guard against it and teach our children
better, none of us is entirely innocent. No institution is
entirely immune. And that includes our
police departments. We know this. And so when African
Americans from all walks of life, from different
communities across the country, voice a growing
despair over what they perceive to be unequal
treatment; when study after study shows that
whites and people of color experience the criminal
justice system differently, so that if
you’re black you’re more likely to be pulled over
or searched or arrested, more likely to get longer
sentences, more likely to get the death penalty
for the same crime; when mothers and fathers raise
their kids right and have “the talk” about how to
respond if stopped by a police officer — “yes,
sir,” “no, sir” — but still fear that something
terrible may happen when their child walks out the
door, still fear that kids being stupid and not quite
doing things right might end in tragedy — when all
this takes place more than 50 years after the passage
of the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn
away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as
troublemakers or paranoid. (applause) We can’t simply dismiss it
as a symptom of political correctness or
reverse racism. To have your experience
denied like that, dismissed by those in
authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white
friends and coworkers and fellow church members
again and again and again — it hurts. Surely we can see
that, all of us. We also know what Chief
Brown has said is true: That so much of the
tensions between police departments and minority
communities that they serve is because we ask
the police to do too much and we ask too
little of ourselves. (applause) As a society, we choose
to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to
fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no
prospect for gainful employment. (applause) We refuse to fund drug
treatment and mental health programs. (applause) We flood communities with
so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to
buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer
or even a book — (applause) — and then we tell the
police “you’re a social worker, you’re the parent,
you’re the teacher, you’re the drug counselor.” We tell them to keep those
neighborhoods in check at all costs, and do so
without causing any political blowback
or inconvenience. Don’t make a mistake that
might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise
when, periodically, the tensions boil over. We know these
things to be true. They’ve been true
for a long time. We know it. Police, you know it. Protestors, you know it. You know how dangerous
some of the communities where these police
officers serve are, and you pretend as if
there’s no context. These things we
know to be true. And if we cannot even talk
about these things — if we cannot talk honestly
and openly not just in the comfort of our own
circles, but with those who look different than
us or bring a different perspective, then we will
never break this dangerous cycle. In the end, it’s not about
finding policies that work; it’s about forging
consensus, and fighting cynicism, and finding
the will to make change. Can we do this? Can we find the character,
as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other
a common humanity and a shared dignity, and
recognize how our different experiences
have shaped us? And it doesn’t make
anybody perfectly good or perfectly bad, it
just makes us human. I don’t know. I confess that sometimes
I, too, experience doubt. I’ve been to too
many of these things. I’ve seen too many
families go through this. But then I am reminded
of what the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will give you a
new heart, the Lord says, and put a new
spirit in you. I will remove from you
your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. That’s what we must pray
for, each of us: a new heart. Not a heart of stone, but
a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges
of our fellow citizens. That’s what we’ve seen
in Dallas these past few days. That’s what we
must sustain. Because with an open
heart, we can learn to stand in each other’s
shoes and look at the world through each other’s
eyes, so that maybe the police officer sees his
own son in that teenager with a hoodie who’s kind
of goofing off but not dangerous — (applause) — and the teenager —
maybe the teenager will see in the police officer
the same words and values and authority
of his parents. (applause) With an open heart, we can
abandon the overheated rhetoric and the
oversimplification that reduces whole categories
of our fellow Americans not just to opponents,
but to enemies. With an open heart, those
protesting for change will guard against reckless
language going forward, look at the model set by
the five officers we mourn today, acknowledge the
progress brought about by the sincere efforts of
police departments like this one in Dallas, and
embark on the hard but necessary work of
negotiation, the pursuit of reconciliation. With an open heart,
police departments will acknowledge that, just
like the rest of us, they are not perfect; that
insisting we do better to root out racial bias is
not an attack on cops, but an effort to live up
to our highest ideals. (applause) And I understand these
protests — I see them, they can be messy. Sometimes they can
be hijacked by an irresponsible few. Police can get hurt. Protestors can get hurt. They can be frustrating. But even those who dislike
the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” surely we should
be able to hear the pain of Alton
Sterling’s family. (applause) We should — when we hear
a friend describe him by saying that “Whatever he
cooked, he cooked enough for everybody,” that
should sound familiar to us, that maybe he wasn’t
so different than us, so that we can, yes, insist
that his life matters. Just as we should hear the
students and coworkers describe their affection
for Philando Castile as a gentle soul — “Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks,”
they called him — and know that his life
mattered to a whole lot of people of all races, of
all ages, and that we have to do what we can, without
putting officers’ lives at risk, but do better to
prevent another life like his from being lost. With an open heart, we can
worry less about which side has been wronged, and
worry more about joining sides to do right. (applause) Because the vicious killer
of these police officers, they won’t be the last
person who tries to make us turn on one other. The killer in Orlando
wasn’t, nor was the killer in Charleston. We know there is
evil in this world. That’s why we need
police departments. (applause) But as Americans, we can
decide that people like this killer 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. “We also glory in our
sufferings, because we know that suffering
produces perseverance; perseverance, character;
and character, hope.” For all of us, life
presents challenges and suffering — accidents,
illnesses, the loss of loved ones. There are times when we
are overwhelmed by sudden calamity, natural
or manmade. All of us, we
make mistakes. And at times we are lost. And as we get older, we
learn we don’t always have control of things — not
even a President does. But we do have control
over how we respond to the world. We do have control over
how we treat one another. America does not ask
us to be perfect. Precisely because of our
individual imperfections, our founders gave us
institutions to guard against tyranny and ensure
no one is above the law; a democracy that gives us
the space to work through our differences and debate
them peacefully, to make things better, even if it
doesn’t always happen as fast as we’d like. America gives us the
capacity to change. But as the men we mourn
today — these five heroes — knew better than
most, we cannot take the blessings of this
nation for granted. Only by working together
can we preserve those institutions of family
and community, rights and responsibilities, law and
self-government that is the hallmark
of this nation. For, it turns out, we
do not persevere alone. Our character is not
found in isolation. Hope does not arise by
putting our fellow man down; it is found by
lifting others up. (applause) And that’s what I take
away from the lives of these outstanding men. The pain we feel may not
soon pass, but my faith tells me that they
did not die in vain. I believe our sorrow can
make us a better country. I believe our righteous
anger can be transformed into more justice
and more peace. Weeping may endure for a
night, but I’m convinced joy comes in the morning. (applause) 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. (applause)

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