DALLAS (WCSC/CNN) - President Barack Obama said we must reject despair in the slaying of five Dallas police officers killed Thursday night during a protest in Dallas.
"I'm here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem, and I know that because I know America," he said. "I know how far we've come against impossible odds."
Obama made the remarks at a memorial held Tuesday afternoon.
"We are here to honor the memory, and mourn the loss, of five fellow Americans — to grieve with their loved ones," Obama said.
He said the officers were upholding the Constitutional rights of the country when they were working at the protest.
"For a while the protest went on without incident--and despite the fact that police conduct was the subject of the protest, despite the fact that there must have been signs or slogans or chants with which they profoundly disagreed, these men and this department did their jobs like the professionals that they were."
He said that while police officers started their days like everyone else, their work was not typical.
"Your work and the work of police officers across the country, is like no other," he said. "For the moment you put on that uniform, you have answered a call that at any moment, even in the briefest interaction, may put your life in harm's way."
Obama said Americans are struggling with what they witnessed in the past week, including the officer-involved shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, the protests, and the targeted attack on Dallas police, which he called "an act not just of demented violence but of racial hatred."
"All of it has left us wounded and angry and hurt," he said. "It's as if the deepest fault lines of our community have been exposed, perhaps even widened. And although we know such divisions are not new, and have surely been worse even in the recent past, that offers us little comfort. Faced with this violence we wonder if the racial divides in this country can ever be breached."
He quoted the Bible verse 1 John 3:18, "Let us love not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth."
If we're to sustain the unity we need to get through these difficult times and honor the fallen, we will need to act on truths we know, he said.
"We know that the overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and professionally," he said. "They are deserving of our respect, not our scorn. And when anyone, no matter how good their intentions may be, paints all police as biased or bigotted, we undermine those officers we depend on for our safety. And as for those who use rhetoric suggesting, 'Harm the police,' even if they don't act on it themselves, they not only make the jobs of police officers even more dangerous, but they do a disservice to the very cause of justice they claim to promote."
Obama said we ask the police to do too much while we ask too little of ourselves.
"As a society, we choose to un-invest 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," Obama said. "We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than 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 councsellor.' 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. They've been true for a long time. We know it. Police, you know it. Protestors, you know it. You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are, and you pretend as if there's no context. These things we know to be true. And if we cannot even talk about these things, if we cannot talk honestly and openly, not just in the comfort of our own circles, but with those who look different than us, or bring a different perspective, then we will never break this dangerous cycle."
Among the attendees were President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Second Lady Jill Biden, and former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush.
"Today the nation grieves, but those of us who love Dallas and call it home have had five deaths in the family," Bush said. "We know like for every other American that their courage is our protection and shield."
Bush said the slain officers were "the best among us."
Dallas Police Chief David Brown recited lyrics from Stevie Wonder's "As" to the families of the five fallen officers.
"Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love. And maybe our children's grandchildren and their great-great grandchildren will tell, I'll be loving you," he said.
Brown said the five men gave their lives for all of us.