Dragonflies had the lawn all to themselves today at Klyde Warren, as people sought shelter from the noonday sun under the red oaks that line the paths at the edges of the park. Let’s call it a few hundred souls, all there to watch a broadcast of the memorial service for five slain cops, held just blocks away at the Meyerson Symphony Center. The crowd was all ages, multiracial, and in good spirits despite the temperature, which climbed above 90. Men who’d ducked out of their offices sweated through dress shirts. Women fanned themselves. Storage space on phones dwindled as some people recorded every minute of the hour-plus service.
For whatever reason, I’ve come to cry more easily as I’ve grown older. My tears started 45 minutes before Mayor Mike Rawlings began the service at 1 o’clock. Walking to the park, I passed some police, waved, said thank you. That’s all it took. I was glad to be wearing sunglasses.
Then the mayor got me. “I want to speak to my fellow Dallasites,” he said toward the end of his nine-minute speech. “I have searched hard in my soul of late to discover what mistakes we have made. I’ve asked, ‘Why us?’ And in my moments of self-doubt, I discovered the truth, that we did nothing wrong. In fact, Dallas is very, very good. Our police are among the best in the country. I am in awe of our Dallas police officers.” As the 2,500 assembled at the Meyerson stood and applauded, everyone in Klyde Warren joined in. If we didn’t stand, though, we, in the heat, could be forgiven. “We set the standard where policing can both be strong and smart,” Rawlings continued. “I have never been more proud of my city. Our city.”
With every speaker — after Rawlings came prayers from Rev. Dr. Sheron Patterson, Imam Omar Suleiman, Rabbi Andrew Marc Paley, then speeches from Sen. John Cornyn, President George W. Bush, Chief David Brown, and, finally, President Barack Obama — the crowd at Klyde Warren showed its approval. Brown told a story about how he had trouble, back in the day, talking to girls. He couldn’t find the right words to express himself. So he would turn to the lyrics of his favorite R&B singers, especially Stevie Wonder. At which point, addressing the families of the fallen, he quoted extensively from “As,” tweaking the refrain to “I’ll be loving you.” He must have said it 15 times. It might sound like an odd choice, but it worked. From blocks away, Brown had all of Klyde Warren rapt.
Obama followed Brown. “I’m so glad I met Michelle first,” the president began, “cause she loves Stevie Wonder.” It was a masterful ad lib. Everyone in the park laughed, and Obama played it perfectly, not smiling at his own joke, lightening the mood just a bit, thankfully, giving the people some relief. I won’t quote the president at length. You can read the transcript of his speech here. I’ll say this: it was spot on. He hit the right notes. He moved people around me at Klyde Warren to throw in “amen”s and “uh-huh”s. It felt like a church service. Which it was.
Here is one thing he said that I’ll call your attention to. Read these words: “In the aftermath of the shooting, we’ve seen Mayor Rawlings and Chief Brown, a white man and a black man with different backgrounds, working not just to restore order and support a shaken city, a shaken department, but working together to unify a city with strength and grace and wisdom. And in the process, we’ve been reminded that the Dallas Police Department has been at the forefront of improving relations between police and the community. The murder rate here has fallen. Complaints of excessive force have been cut by 64 percent. The Dallas Police Department has been doing it the right way. And so, Mayor Rawlings and Chief Brown, on behalf of the American people, thank you for your steady leadership. Thank you for your powerful example. We could not be prouder of you.”
That’s how I felt watching the memorial service from the park. I could not be prouder of how this city has responded to evil. There is so much work to be done. God, so much. But today I am hopeful that we — as a city, as a nation — have the grit and open hearts to get it done.
When Obama finished, a choir sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Two women standing next to me — one black, one white — gave each other a long, tight hug. That was the last time today, until just now, as I typed this, that I cried. I believe we can do this.