Politics

Obama Aims to Provide 'Measure of Comfort' in Dallas

Earnest: President doesn't see country as divided

Dallas police stand watch near the scene where four Dallas police officers were shot and killed on Thursday in Dallas. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will try to provide “some measure of comfort” to a Dallas area and a country on edge following more racially tinged shootings, a role the White House says he has played “far too often.”  

The White House is still piecing together final plans and the speech Obama will deliver Tuesday during an interfaith service in Dallas, five days after an attack on police there by a 25-year-old Army veteran . But it appears Obama once again will seek to be the country’s "healer in chief" after what his top spokesman on Monday succinctly called “a tough week.”  

Five police officers were killed and seven wounded Thursday evening in the Texas city following a Black Lives Matter protest held in reaction to the recent shooting deaths of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota by police there. The Louisiana killing was caught on video and shared widely on social media. The aftermath of the Minnesota incident was live streamed on Facebook.   

[ Let's Not Call Dallas Shootings 'Terrorism' ]  

Obama has a “good sense” of the message he wants to deliver to a country still battling to move beyond its slavery, Jim Crow and civil rights eras, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday. The country’s first African-American president will deliver remarks to some blacks who have urged him to use the address to blast law enforcement entities, and some whites — including police representatives and senior Texas government officials — eager for him to condemn the Black Lives Matter movement .  

Earnest suggested that the president will, as he has in the days since the Dallas attack, stress unity and deliver an optimistic assessment about race relations. He said Obama believes the country “is more united than you may believe if you just watched 30 minutes of cable television.”

 

To that end, Obama “remains optimistic about the progress” the United States has made on race relations, Earnest said. He pointed out that it’s “not just black people” who were troubled by videos from Louisiana and Minnesota, and it’s “not just white Americans” who were horrified at images of a black gunman targeting white officers.  

The president is expected to mourn the five dead officers and offer their families and colleagues some words of admiration and encouragement. He will also likely praise the Dallas Police Department , which ironically has made changes in recent years that have improved relations with the community and helped drive down crime rates.  

[ Congressional Black Caucus Chair: Dallas Shooter 'Terrorist by Any Definition' ]   

Recognizing that, as Earnest put it, “this is a time for leadership,” Obama on Wednesday will host law enforcement officials, activists, and civil rights leaders from across the country in Washington to "seek solutions" to differences between police departments and communities across the country.  

Details for that session are still being worked out and an invite list is still being constructed. But White House officials are expected to again call for policing changes, while also bringing up things “ordinary Americans can do” to improve police-community relations , Earnest said.  

With critics labeling Obama too harsh on police, Earnest went to lengths Monday to express the president’s belief that policy decisions like inadequate education funding put massive burdens on police departments by creating grim prospects for some African-American communities. It then becomes the responsibility of law enforcement officials to deal with the ramifications and keep the peace.  

“And that’s not fair,” Earnest said.  

Additionally, Obama on Monday joined a meeting with law enforcement officials, organized by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. ’s office, to discuss the Dallas shooting and "the challenging job police have," Earnest said.  

Obama will be joined by former President George W. Bush on Tuesday in Dallas at an interfaith memorial service for the five police officers killed last week. As often is the case with sitting presidents, Obama is looking forward to seeing another member of one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, Earnest said.  

[ Fatal Police Shootings Caught on Video ]    

Of Bush, the White House said “it is a credit to him” for accepting Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings ' invitation, as did the president, to attend and deliver remarks. And Earnest said having the duo appear together at the service should be symbol that despite Americans’ differences, they can come together around important issues.  

The White House announced that Biden will also attend the Dallas service. Delivering the White House's weekly address on Saturday, Biden offered a preview of Obama’s remarks, urging unity after a spate of police-related shootings, tinged with racial tensions.  

"So while we’re being tested, we can’t be pulled apart. We are America, with bonds that hold us together," Biden said. "We endure, we persevere, we overcome, we stand together."  

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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