Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.
DALLAS — Steps away from pictures of the five officers killed last week by a lone gunman, President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said Tuesday the best way to honor their lives is for everyone to open their hearts to one another and unite as Americans.
“With an open heart, we can worry less about which side has been wronged and worry more about joining sides to do what is right,” Obama said at an interfaith service honoring Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens.
Obama, Bush and local leaders addressed a sea of black suits, dresses and uniforms at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Throughout the dimly lit room, attendees sported yellow and blue sashes representing the Dallas community and its first responders, respectively.
The five officers died when Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, opened fire on officers Thursday night, striking 10 Dallas Police Department officers and one from the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Authority. The shooting came after what was a peaceful protest by hundreds against the two recent police killings of black men Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, which fueled the national Black Lives Matter movement. The mayor and the president said the city has made efforts to transform the department’s reputation and improve relations with the black community.
Obama called upon Americans to reject those who would try to use the events in Texas, Louisiana and Minnesota to paint police officers or protesters with one broad brush, instead asking people to focus on the common heart that we all share.
“In this audience I see what’s possible, I see what’s possible when we recognize that we are one American family, all deserving of equal treatment, all deserving equal respect, all children of God – that’s the America I know,” Obama said.
Even those who dislike the phrase Black Lives Matter should be able to understand the pain of Sterling and Castile’s families, he said. And those who advocate harm to police “do a disservice to the very cause of justice that they claim to promote.”
The recent attack on police officers and the national outcry over law enforcement’s treatment of minorities exposes the faults in America’s democracy, Obama said. But the way to mend those faults is not by retreating to ideological corners or divisive politics.
Instead, Americans – politicians, police officers, protesters, and all – need to follow the example of the Dallas police officers who gave their lives in order to move the country forward, the president said.
“As Americans, we can decide to come together and make our country reflect the good inside us, the hopes and simple dreams we share,” Obama said. “Hope does not arise by putting our fellow men down. It is found by lifting others up. That’s what I take away from the lives of these outstanding men.”
Obama’s predecessor echoed the message of unity during his remarks at the memorial and lauded the Dallas police officers for their service and the risk they had to face.
“They and their families share the unspoken knowledge that each new day can brings new dangers, but none of us were prepared, or could be prepared, for an ambush by hatred and malice,” Bush said. He later added, “To renew our unity we only need to remember our values we have never held together by blood or background. At the best we know we have is one future, one hope, one destiny.”
At the start of the service, all eyes fell on the stage, where five photos of the fallen officers stood to the side of two presidents and an array of flags representing North Texas cities that were among the first to rally for Dallas in its darkest hour since another president was in town more than 50 years ago. These fellow officers, lawmakers, family members and other loved ones sought solace in the affirmative words of hymns sung by an interfaith choir and the rejection of violence from Obama, who said he’s hugged too many families, traveled to too many cities because of “senseless violence.”
It was a theme touched on by Rawlings earlier in the service.
“These men and women are here because we have a common disease — the obscured violence on our streets,” Rawlings said. “Those who will help us fight it are our men and women in blue. They have died from that cause.”
He added, “Dallas pain is a national pain. To wage this violence and separatism, today must be about unity. Unity among faith groups, police and citizens and, and yes, politicians.”
Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who has drawn national attention for his response to the shootings, recited the lyrics to “I’ll be loving you” by Stevie Wonder to the families of fallen officers.
“There is no greater love than this — that these five men gave their lives for all of us,” Brown later added.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who also spoke at the service, told The Texas Tribune beforehand that Brown deserved praise for his handling of the shooting.
“If anything good can come out of this terrible tragedy it will be a long overdue conversation about race and justice and the skepticism some elements of the community have about whether law enforcement is actually on their side,” Cornyn said. “I think there’s no better spokesman than Chief Brown, who’s done an amazing job.”
Hours before the fatal shootings last week, Obama addressed the nation, saying there are racial disparities in police shootings but recognizing that the incidents do not contradict the appreciation communities have for most law enforcement.
State officials reacted via social media and updated followers with each development. Gov. Greg Abbott extended thoughts and prayers and offered state assistance to Dallas. The governor Monday announced his wife, Cecilia, would attend the memorial while he recovers from an infection after suffering severe burns to his legs and feet.
Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were scheduled to visit families of the fallen officers after the memorial service.
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