Pundits on the right wing have taken to social media to criticize President Obama’s eulogy in Dallas for the five police officers killed while protecting Black Lives Matters protesters on the 7th of July. While some of the attacks are warranted, given the president’s claim that getting a Glock is easier in some communities than a book or a computer, for the most part, his words, and those of former president, George W. Bush, were exactly the kind of message that all Americans need to hear.
Both Bush and Obama praised the officers who were assassinated, naming each of them and giving details of their lives and their families. Bush said that he and his wife see police officers as friends and a shield for good people, and Obama reminded us that people working in law enforcement answer a call like no other, a call to put themselves in harm’s way at any moment for their fellow citizens, while not hearing thanks often enough from the people they protect.
Some of the criticism has focused on the part of Obama’s speech that dealt with police abuses. What is being missed in that commentary is that the president offered ideas that we all must consider if we hope to prevent future deaths among law enforcement. He insisted that the overwhelming majority of officers are good professionals who deserve our respect, rather than our scorn. What he said about the tiny number who do wrong has to be understood in the context of racism, both institutionalized and personal, over centuries. With that history, we have to acknowledge that a measure of suspicion and rage on the part of minorities is justified.
Part of that is magnified by what Obama has spoken out against in the past and mentioned in his eulogy, the militarization of police. Law enforcement is an exercise of government power on citizens, and it’s a fundamental principle of our way of life that we do not allow the military to govern within our borders. The trend of making officers more and more into paramilitary groups is rightly a cause of resentment in much of the country and is a threat to our essential freedoms.
Obama’s message was that we must seek understanding among the various communities in this country, must create trust between the police and the people they serve. His fear is that divisions will only deepen, but if we’re to come together, it will be through the kinds of reforms that the Dallas Police Department has enacted over the last several years. Situations in which force is used are examined for the lessons that can be learned, and the emphasis has been on the relationship with the community. An illustration of this came during the protest that was attacked. Officers had pictures taken with the protesters, and as Obama pointed out, they defended a mother and her children when shots were fired.
This is the kind of solution that both presidents sought. In the words of Bush, the forces pulling Americans apart come from our tendency to judge other groups by their worst examples and ourselves by our best intentions. And as Obama said, building on what Dallas Chief of Police David Brown said about police being asked to do things that are far beyond their job description or responsibilities. It’s easy for us to blame the police when things go wrong, but Obama’s words here harken back to Kennedy telling us to ask what we can do for our country.
To continue this train of thought, we best honor those who have been killed when we seek ways to make the world for their children and safer for their surviving colleagues. That will be achieved only by being honest about the problems that exist, while honoring, as both presidents did, the hard work of the many good officers. This is the rejection of cynicism and commitment to our common values described by Obama and Bush.
I’m by no means a supporter of either president, but both called us all to rise to our best in their eulogies at the memorial in Dallas.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.