(Recasts first paragraph, adds fresh Obama quotes)
By Jon Herskovitz and Jeff Mason
DALLAS, July 12 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on
Tuesday praised Dallas police officers including the five slain
at a protest against police violence last week for saving lives
during the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement in almost 15
"We know that the overwhelming majority of police officers
do an incredibly hard and dangerous job fairly and
professionally," Obama told a memorial service for the slain
police officers. "They are deserving of our respect and not our
"And when anyone, no matter how good their intentions may
be, paints all police as biased or bigoted, we undermine those
officers we depend on for our safety," Obama added.
Former U.S. Army Reserve soldier Micah Johnson, 25, gunned
down the officers in an ambush on Thursday after expressing
anger over recent police killings of black people. Johnson then
was killed by an explosive-laden robot sent in by police.
Johnson, who was black, opened fire during a march
protesting the police shootings last week of two black men in
Baton Rouge, Louisiana and outside St. Paul, Minnesota, the
latest in a string of high-profile killings that have stirred a
deepest debate on race and justice in America.
"We mourn fewer people today because of your brave actions,"
Obama told a crowd several hundred people, including many
uniformed police officers, at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony
Center. "Despite the fact that police conduct was the subject of
the protest, despite the fact that there must have been signs or
slogans or chants with which they profoundly disagreed, these
men and this department did their jobs as the professionals that
Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, also
addressed the packed hall, where five chairs were empty of
people, holding folded American flags, in memory of the slain
"At times it feels like the forces pulling us apart are
stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too
easily into animosity," Bush said. "We do not want the unity of
grief nor do we want the unity of fear. We want the unity of
hope, affection and high purpose."
Following the ceremony Obama planned to meet with the
families of the slain policemen and others who were wounded. The
slain officers were Mike Smith, 55; Lorne Ahrens, 48; Michael
Krol, 40; Brent Thomson, 43, and Patrick Zamarripa, 32.
A HATE CRIME
Obama told senior law enforcement officials on Monday that
he sees the Dallas shooting as a hate crime, or one motivated by
bias, said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National
Fraternal Order of Police, who was in the closed-door meeting at
the White House.
Hate crimes, which carry more severe penalties, are offenses
committed with an added element of bias against a person or
group over race or ethnicity, religion, gender or gender
identity, sexual orientation or disability.
Pasco said Obama drew a parallels between the actions of the
Dallas shooter and Dylann Roof, the man prosecutors say espoused
white supremacist beliefs before fatally shooting nine black
people inside a church in Charleston, South Carolina in June
Johnson's death makes the question of charges against him
moot, but Pasco said police unions are using the incident to
lobby for a change to a federal statute that would allow the
targeting of police, regardless of their race, to be charged as
a hate crime.
White House officials did not dispute Pasco's account of the
As he has done repeatedly after mass shootings in the past
several years, Obama reiterated a call for stricter gun control
in the United States following the Dallas attack.
The Senate took up the issue after an attack on a gay
nightclub last month in Orlando that killed 49 people and was
the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. But senators
failed to agree on any one approach. While Democrats in the
House, along with some Republicans, have been clamoring for
legislation, deep divisions among Republicans who control the
chamber have prevented any legislation from even reaching the
The death toll in Dallas was the highest for law enforcement
on a single day in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks. Nine officers and two civilians were also wounded in
the Dallas shootings.
Outside the hall, Sharice Williams, 41, who drove the
roughly 95 miles (153 km) from Waco, stood in hopes of catching
a glimpse of the president.
"My heart is heavy. I'm tired of seeing my brothers and
sisters killed, but the police don't deserve that," said
Williams, who is black. "I'm praying that Obama being here
brings us some kind of peace."
(Additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas, Ayesha
Rascoe, Richard Cowan and Julia Edwards in Washington; Writing
by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry and Will Dunham)
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