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Obama Delivers Remarks At Memorial For Fallen Dallas Police Officers

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

NPR's Scott Horsley accompanied President Obama on his trip to Dallas this afternoon. And Scott joins us now on the line. You were at the memorial service. Describe the scene for us there.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, Robert, the symphony hall here was just echoing with patriotic hymns and those prayers for unity that Ari mentioned. On the stage, sitting just behind the president and the other dignitaries was the Dallas Police Choir in their dress uniforms with white gloves and behind them an interfaith choir all in black. And the audience itself was just a sea of blue police uniforms.

There were flags of all the neighboring cities - Fort Worth, Mesquite, Arlington. In fact, the Arlington police provided security for President Obama on his way into Dallas because the local police force is just exhausted. And then, of course, on the stage there were five large photographs of the officers who were killed.

SIEGEL: Aides to President Obama said that he was up late last night working on his speech to this service. Tell us more about what he had to say today.

HORSLEY: They tell us he was up late consulting Scripture. And he took as his text today a verse about how suffering leads to perseverance and perseverance leads to hope. Obama acknowledged that hope has been sorely tested not only here in Dallas, but across the country by the events of the last week. But he said he takes hope from what he's witnessed here in this city, a city that has been led through this terrible crisis by its white mayor and its black police chief.

The president also quoted one of the protesters who had come to that demonstration last Thursday with her four sons, a woman who was calling out police misconduct, but who also gave thanks to the police for protecting her family when the bullets started flying.

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BARACK OBAMA: She said she wanted her boys to join her - to protest the incidence of black men being killed. She also said to the Dallas PD, thank you for being heroes. And today, her 12-year-old son wants to be a cop when he grows up.

HORSLEY: Both President Obama and former President Bush said we need more of that kind of empathy on all sides.

SIEGEL: Scott, President Obama's speech was very interesting because he was there both to show support for the police and what they do and also for the protesters whom the police were protecting last Thursday night. How did he do that balancing act?

HORSLEY: Yeah, this is a real tightrope for the president to walk. This was obviously a memorial service for the five police officers who were murdered last week. But on his way here, the president also telephoned the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the man who died at the hands of police last week in Louisiana and Minnesota and whose death was the subject of that protest here. So the president spoke of their loss as well.

The president has said the overwhelming majority of police officers do a good job and are deserving of our respect, not scorn. He cautioned those in the Black Lives Matter movement that verbal attacks on police are counterproductive. But at the same time, the president said Americans have to confront some tough truths, that racism did not simply vanish with the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

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OBAMA: We also know what Chief Brown has said is true, that so much of the tensions between police departments and minority communities that they serve is because we ask the police to do too much and we ask too little of ourselves.

HORSLEY: Obama said we should worry less about which side has been wrong and more about how we can join sides to do what's right.

SIEGEL: The president said that he intends to keep talking about these issues. So what happens now?

HORSLEY: That's right, Robert. Tomorrow at the White House, the president will host a gathering of police and civil rights leaders to talk about how to rebuild trust between law enforcement and minority communities. This won't happen swiftly, he said. But again, he turned to Scripture - with perseverance comes character and hope.

SIEGEL: OK, thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Robert.

SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley speaking to us from Dallas, the scene of today's interfaith memorial service. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.