Obama: USA must reject despair and find common ground
Published 13/07/2016 | 02:30
US President Barack Obama called on Americans to find common ground in support of racial equity and justice as he spoke at a memorial service for five police officers murdered in Dallas.
Mr Obama acknowledged Americans are unsettled by another mass shooting and are seeking answers to the violence that has sparked protests in cities and highlighted the nation's persistent racial divide.
Five Dallas officers were killed last Thursday while standing guard as hundreds of people protested against the police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota earlier in the week.
"It's hard not to think sometimes that the centre might not hold, that things might get worse," Mr Obama said.
"We must reject such despair."
He joined politicians, police officers and families of the fallen in the wake of the shocking killings by a black man who said he wanted revenge for the killings of blacks by police.
"The soul of our city was pierced," Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings said as he welcomed Mr Obama to the memorial service.
It was organised to help combat "a common disease" of violence and honour those who fight it, "our men and women in blue, our peacemakers in blue".
Mr Rawlings spoke steps from five empty chairs and portraits of the dead officers.
A call for national unity and solidarity was reinforced by several speakers at the interfaith service, including former president George W Bush, a Dallas resident, who attended with his wife, Laura.
"At times it feels like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together," Mr Bush said.
"Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.
"We want the unity of hope, affection and higher purpose," he said.
Mr Obama has denounced the shooting as a "vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement" by a "demented" individual. And he has argued that, despite the heated public outcry of the past week, the country is not as divided as it may seem.
Mr Obama's choice of travelling companions underscored the theme. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California joined Mr Obama on Air Force One for the flight to Dallas.
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas spoke at the service but did not travel with the president. He said the attack was deeply personal.
"Being a Texan doesn't describe where you're from, it describes who your family is," the senator said.
The White House said the president worked late into the night writing his speech and consulting scripture for inspiration.
As Mr Obama landed in Dallas, spokesman Josh Earnest said the president had telephoned the families of Alton Sterling, the man shot by police in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile, the Minnesota motorist shot by an officer, to offer his and First Lady Michelle Obama's condolences.
Mr Obama included references to both men in his remarks at the service.