President Barack Obama will take on the all-too-familiar task of consoling victims’ families and a worried nation at an interfaith memorial service Tuesday in Dallas.
He will be joined by his predecessor, George W. Bush, in confronting the Dallas mass shooting that combines grief over law officers’ deaths with concern over the tumultuous state of race relations.
Five officers were killed by a sniper last week at the end of a peaceful protest over the police shooting deaths of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, the latest of several similar incidents. Before he was killed himself, the sniper said he was upset about the shootings and that he wanted to kill white people, particularly white officers, according to the Dallas police chief.
The appearance by the Democratic president and Republican former president, along with other dignitaries, will present a picture of unity against a backdrop of continued demonstrations around the country in the aftermath of the Texas tragedy.
Vice President Joe Biden also is among those scheduled to be at the service at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Among state officials who plan to attend is House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.
“In times of national tribulation, presidents often serve as consoler-in-chief,” said political scientist Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, noting that Bush had a high-profile turn in the role after the 9/11 terror attacks.
“In instances like these, presidents remind the nation that it has been shaken before and overcome, and that shared values have helped us do it,” Jillson said. “The question today for Texas and the nation is whether our polarized politics still allows for shared grieving and healing or whether the urge to point fingers and assess blame has displaced our ability to feel together.”
The question was highlighted in Texas by the disparate reactions by top Republicans to the shooting.
Gov. Greg Abbott — who traveled back to Texas to respond to the shootings a day after suffering severe burns while on vacation — called for unity. He was hospitalized Monday in San Antonio for treatment of his burns. His wife, Cecilia, will attend the service in his place.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, meanwhile, blamed the “Black Lives Matter” movement after the shootings and suggested Dallas protesters were “hypocrites” for running from the sniper and expecting police to protect them.
Bee Moorhead of Texas Impact, a faith-based organization, said Tuesday’s appearances will be significant but more is required for progress.
“The leadership and visibility of political leaders is very important in a time of turmoil, but no amount of rhetoric — however wise or sincere — will be enough to move our communities forward,” Moorhead said.
“What’s needed are innumerable small, heartfelt, and supremely difficult interactions in our communities. Hearts and minds don’t usually change in public, or all at once. Texans, and all Americans, should steel ourselves for the special pain that comes from ripping off millions of Bandaids and giving those wounds some air,” she said.
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SOURCE: San Antonio Express-News – Peggy Fikac