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TRYING TO HEAL

Obama’s Dallas speech pinpoints the tensions between police and the communities they serve

Jake Flanagin
By Jake Flanagin

Reporter

US president Barack Obama traveled to the city of Dallas, Texas, today (July 12) to deliver a speech in response to the shooting and killing of five police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday.

After memorializing each of the fallen officers—Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—the president expertly distilled the social and historical contexts for current tensions between law enforcement and policed communities.

“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 truth that we know,” he said to those assembled at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. “No institution is entirely immune [to prejudice]. And that includes our police departments.”

He continued:

“What [Dallas police chief David Brown] has said is true—that so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is that we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves. 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. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to get a Glock than it is for him to get his hands on a computer or even a book.

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 those things to be true.

Police, you know it. Protesters, you know it.”

Still, the president expressed hope. “We must reject such despair,” he said. “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.

He was preceded by former president George W. Bush, who calls Dallas home. Bush also touched on racial divides exacerbated in the wake of events in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas. “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions,” he noted. “This has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”

“[We] do not want the unity of grief,” he added.

Obama met privately with the families of those slain, expressing the country’s gratitude for their service and sacrifice, according to the White House.

Also in attendance were first lady Michelle Obama, vice president Joe Biden, and former first lady Laura Bush.

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