DALLAS - President Barack Obama on Tuesday stood before the family and friends of five police officers killed last week in a downtown Dallas ambush.
He called for unity and solidarity at the interfaith service at the Meyerson Symphony Center. First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are also there, as well as former President George W. Bush, former First Lady Laura Bush, Sen. John Cornyn and governors from several neighboring states.
“I understand how Americans are feeling. But Dallas, I’m here to say we must reject despair,” he said. “I’m here to insist we are not as divided as we may seem.”
Obama talked about the way Officers Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Patrick Zamarripa died protecting the constitutional rights of the country.
“In this country, they don’t have soldiers or militias in the street setting rules. Instead, we have public servants and police officers, like the men who were taken away from us. They were assigned to protect and peaceful protest in response to the killing of Alton Sterling," he said. "We know that the overwhelming majority of police officers do a dangerous job fairly and professionally and deserve our respect, not our scorn."
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said he invited the dignitaries to the service because of a "common disease," which is violence on the streets. He said wants Tuesday to be a day of healing, starting with unity.
Rawlings pointed to five seats that were kept empty for the fallen officers, saying "we love you, we'll never forget you."
"We may be sad, but we will never have self-pity. We may weep, but we will never whine. We have too much work to be done, too many bridges to build that we will cross together," he said.
Bush, a Dallas native, echoed that call for unity. He called on Americans to reject the unity of grief and fear and focus on the unity of hope, affection and a higher purpose.
"At times it feels like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together," 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."
Dallas Police Chief David Brown said growing up he always struggled for the right words when it came to expressing his love for people. He learned to use music and on Tuesday recited the lyrics of Stevie Wonder’s song “As” to the families of the fallen officers.
“Just as hate knows love's the cure, you can rest your mind assure that I'll be loving you always,” he said.
Just a few weeks ago, Obama traveled to Orlando to consoling the loved ones of 49 people who were killed in a shooting rampage at a nightclub. Leading the nation in honoring lives cut short has become an unwelcome but regular duty of his presidency.
“I’ve spoke at too many memorials during this presidency and I’ve hugged too many loved ones,” he said.
Obama and Biden met Monday with police chiefs, sheriffs and rank-and-file officers to discuss adopting a series of reforms that were drafted by a White House task force on policing, as well as how to restore trust between police officers and the communities they are sworn to serve and protect.
Tuesday’s service was not open to the public so that as many police officers as possible could attend. However, the service was being shown on screens at Klyde Warren Park and was broadcast live on FOX 4 News.
Afterward, Obama is expected to meet privately with the families of those killed and those injured in the attack.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.