President Barack Obama used his bully pulpit in Dallas today to reflect on race and to warn that racism continues to persist in America. He came to speak at the interfaith memorial to the five officers who were murdered last week by a black racist who had sought to kill white police officers. Obama said that "none of us is entirely innocent" or immune to racism, "including our police departments."
Obama started his peroration with paraphrases from the Holy Bible. "Scripture tells us that in our sufferings there is glory," he said at the beginning of his remarks at the memorial service for the five police officers who lost their lives. "Because we know that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance [produces] character, and character, hope."
Obama, who has been criticized by Republicans and law-enforcement officials for expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement, said Americans “cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid.”
“We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism,” he said.
Obama said the murderer, Army veteran and reservist Micah X. Johnson, was responsible for “an act not just of demented violence, but of racial hatred.” The president said, “It’s as if the deepest fault lines of our democracy have been exposed, perhaps even widened...We wonder if the divides of race in America can ever be bridged.”
Despite statistics offered by the FBI and the New York Police Department on the disparity of the incidence of violent crime that exists between black and white communities, the president told mourners in a 40-minute speech that "white people and people of color experience the criminal justice system differently." He claimed that black Americans are more likely to serve time in prison and to get death sentences than whites.
Obama said that America is facing a serious problem in that parents of black children are worried that something terrible might befall them upon walking out the door. "When all this takes place more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we can't simply dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid," he said. "We can't simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism."
Projecting his sentiments on black Americans, Obama said "To have your experience denied like that or dismissed by people in authority… again and again and again, it hurts." He added, "Surely, we can see that – all of us."
The president did speak sternly in defense of police, while saying that their critics frequently do not recognize the dangers police face on duty throughout the country. He quoted Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who said that it is too often as citizens, "we ask the police to do too much, and we ask too little of ourselves." Police attending the speech gave him a standing ovation for that line.
Obama sought to cast the blame for problems police face on what he said is a lack of adequate funding for "decent schools," drug rehabilitation, and mental health programs. Predictably, Obama argued that further gun control must be enacted. He said that “As a society, we choose to under-invest in decent schools,” Obama said. “We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than it is to get his hands on a computer or even a book.”
The president said, “And then we tell the police, ‘You’re the 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 when the tensions boil over.”
"We know these things are true," he said. "They've been true for a long time. We know it – police, you know it. Protesters know it – you know [about] some of the angers of these communities where police serve… and you pretend there is no context."
"If we can't talk honestly and openly, then we will never break this dangerous cycle," he said, lamenting that he has witnessed too many mass shootings during his time in office.
Obama's remarks came after considerable agitation and protests by Black Lives Matter activists that came after the police shootings of two black men: one in Louisiana, and another in Minnesota.
The president, who has been criticized by law-enforcement officials for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, said Americans “cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid.”
Former President George W. Bush expressed the nation’s pride for the murdered officers. “Our police chief and police department have been mighty inspirations for the rest of the nation,” Bush said. “These slain officers were the best among us.” Bush resides in the Dallas area.
As for calming frayed nerves and raw emotions, Bush said Americans must work at “finding our better selves.”
“We recognize that we are brothers and sisters, sharing the same brief moment on earth,” Bush said. “We do not want the unity of grief, nor do we want the unity of fear. We want the unity of hope, affection and high purpose.”