In response to the shooting of police officers in Dallas last week, President Obama unleashed a barrage of words Tuesday at a memorial service for the slain officers, as if he intended each word to begin the healing process, to push the pain a little further into the past. This service was the 11th time in his presidency that he has had to address a major incident of gun violence.
If social media is any indication of the power of his speech at this memorial service, Obama had one of his finest oratorical moments, and he’s had a few in his time in office. Before he could digest the reports of two young Black men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., he was told of the ambush in Dallas.
The tragedies that rocked the nation brought him back home faster than he intended as he was traveling in Europe on a mission to discuss the NATO problems and to speak to American troops based in Rota, Spain.
He had a pile of misery on his mind, but he began with a brief moment of levity.
Obama spoke after Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who recited lines from Stevie Wonder’s song “As,” including, “Until the rainbow burns the stars from out the sky, I’ll be loving you. Until the ocean covers every mountain high, I’ll be loving you.”
“Chief Brown,” Obama said, after mentioning the other dignitaries, “I’m so glad I met Michelle first, because she loves Stevie Wonder.”
Then, it was time to deal with the terrible sorrow to which only Scripture can give meaning and succor. “Scripture tells us that in our sufferings, there is glory, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope,” Obama said, almost preaching. “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.”
He said they had gathered there to mourn, to remember the five slain officers and to pray for the seven wounded, left in the wake of Micah Johnson’s rage.
Each one of the officers was saluted for his bravery—Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Patrick Zamarripa and Brent Thompson, who just about two weeks ago, “married a fellow officer, their whole life together waiting before them,” the president related.
“Like police officers across the country,” Obama continued, “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.”
When the president mentioned Sterling and Castile, they were placed in the context of the police who were there at the rally to protect the protesters. “Faced with this violence,” Obama said, “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.”
It’s a shame that as Obama begins his good-byes they are tainted with blood. One moment he’s on the stage with Hillary Clinton, assuring her victory as much as ensuring his legacy. But he cannot go quietly into that good night because there might be even more senseless bloodshed awaiting his soothing words.
Yes, he did a little chastising, a little tough talk to cops, but he managed a trek along the narrow line of respect for all, careful not to condemn or commend too much.
In the end, it was back to the fallen officers. “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,” he concluded.