Updated at 4:27 p.m. ET
Two American presidents came together to mourn what happened in Dallas last week.
President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush appeared at a memorial service Tuesday for the five officers shot and killed while protecting demonstrators at a city protest. Obama’s remarks were the most effusive he’s given in this past, violent week. Just days ago, Obama addressed the nation about the shooting deaths of two black men by police officers. He was overseas at the NATO Summit when the shooting began in Dallas, and cut his visit to Europe short to prepare for Tuesday’s services.
In his remarks, delivered at the end of the ceremony, Obama said Americans’ “entire way of life … depends on the rule of law,” and that the officers killed last week “were upholding the constitutional rights of this country.” Even though some protesters were critical of police, “these men and this department did their jobs like the professionals that they were.” The officers honored Tuesday are Lorne Ahrens, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, and Michael Smith.
The New York Times reported that Obama had “hop[ed] to find words that would not only console the officers’ grief-stricken families but also reassure a nation fearful that racial divisions are worsening.” His eulogizing role isn’t anything new. As George Condon wrote in National Journal two years ago—before Obama sang “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney in Charleston, before he honored victims of the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C.—the president’s public appearances in times of public sorrow are a “routine all too familiar” to Obama:
[His] time in office has been marked by an unusual number of deadly natural disasters and far too many funerals and memorial services after several mass shootings and one terrorist bombing. Starting with his trip to Beckley, West Virginia, April 25, 2010, to deliver the eulogy for 29 miners killed in a coal mine explosion, the president has made such somber treks far more often than he would like. He has viewed storm damage in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey and New York. He has gone to communities shaken by gun violence in Arizona, Texas, Colorado and Connecticut. And, most recently, he has prayed with the victims and survivors of the bomb attack in Massachusetts and industrial explosion in Texas. …
[I]n all cases, whether the deaths and destruction result from acts of God or the misdeeds of man, the nation expects its president to provide comfort and solace and to serve as the mourner-in-chief. They also hope that his words will somehow help them make sense of the event that has so disrupted their lives.
On Tuesday, Obama acknowledged his fellow citizens’ pain. “I know that Americans are struggling right now with what we've witnessed over the past week,” Obama said. “All of it’s left us wounded and angry and hurt. [That] the deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened.” Americans wonder if racial divides will be fixed, Obama said, as people “retreat to their respective corners” and as lines are drawn. “It's hard not to think sometimes that the center won't hold, and that things might get worse. I understand. I understand how Americans are feeling. But, Dallas, I'm here to say we must reject such despair. I'm here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem.”