President Obama Urges Americans to Unite and “Reject Despair” at Dallas Memorial Service

Former President George W. Bush joined him on the stage.

Speaking Tuesday at an interfaith memorial service to honor the five Dallas police officers killed in a police ambush last week, President Barack Obama urged Americans to “open” their hearts and confront uncomfortable truths about racial biases in the judicial system. It was the 11th time Obama has addressed a city after a mass shooting since taking office in 2008.

“I know Americans are struggling, but we must reject despair,” Obama said at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas. “I’m here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem, and I know that because I know how far we’ve come against impossible odds.”

“In the end, it’s not about finding policies that work—it’s about forging consensus and fighting cynicism.”

Obama also addressed the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and said that while protests can be “messy,” Americans should be able to understand the pain felt by the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men killed by the police just days before the Dallas attack.

The city is still in mourning from Thursday’s ambush, when a lone gunman opened fire on police officers who were patrolling a nearby peaceful demonstration against the deaths of Sterling and Castile. The suspected attacker reportedly made comments saying he was upset by the recent police shootings and that he sought to kill police, especially white officers.

Vice President Joe Biden, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and former President George W. Bush and his wife were among the many politicians attending Tuesday’s service. The auditorium was filled with members of the law enforcement community; five empty seats were reserved to honor the five slain officers and their families.

Last week, the president fiercely condemned the Dallas shooting, which he described as a “vicious” and “despicable” attack on law enforcement officials. Critics on the right have slammed Obama and the Black Lives Matter movement for fueling animosity between police and African Americans.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who invited Obama to speak at Tuesday’s memorial, has blamed his own generation for allowing racial tensions to “fester” and failing to deal with the complicated issues at hand.

“We may weep but will never whine because we have too much work to be done, we have too many bridges to build,” Rawlings said on Tuesday.