By David Sedeno Catholic News Service
DALLAS (CNS) — In the week since five Dallas area police officers were gunned down, thousands have gathered in churches, parks, plazas, parking lots and a symphony hall to remember the fallen officers, to cry for hope and pray for peace and unity in communities across the country.
On the evening of July 7, as a march and rally protesting police-related shootings in parts of the country was about to end, a lone sniper targeted police, fatally wounding five officers, and injuring nine other officers and two civilians. After a standoff for several hours with a heavily armed, agitated and wounded gunman holed up in a second-story garage, police detonated an explosive device, killing him.
As the night turned into day, the sunlight July 8 gave way to images of busted windows, bullet-riddled police vehicles and shattered lives; a request from the police chief for better treatment and respect for those taking the oath “to serve and to protect,” and a resolve from city and faith leaders that neither a “coward” targeting police or others bent on disrupting a city would divide the community.
On July 12, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President George W. Bush joined Mayor Mike Rawlings, Police Chief David O. Brown, the families of those officers killed and injured, hundreds of other law enforcement officials, and elected and interfaith leaders at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center to remember the “heroes.”
Those heroes were represented in the audience not only by their families, but by five seats, draped in black, with a folded American flag and a policeman’s cap.
Obama, Bush, the mayor and the police chief all spoke about the courage of the five officers and their commitment to protecting lives.
As he has done over the past several days during his European trip, Obama said America was not divided but that many times some Americans do not understand the plight of others, particularly the racial profiling that minorities endure disproportionately at the hands of the community and police officers.
The march through downtown Dallas July 7 was organized to show support for families of two men killed earlier in the week in officer-related shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota.
He talked about incidents that prompted the rally and shootings in Dallas. On July 5 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Sterling, 37, was killed by police during an altercation outside a convenience store after witnesses said that he had a gun. On July 6, in suburban St. Paul, Minn., Philando Castile was fatally shot after a traffic stop.
“If we are to sustain unity, if we are to get through these difficult times, if we are to honor these five outstanding officers who we have lost, then we need to act on the truths that we know,” he said. “And that’s not easy. It makes us uncomfortable. We are going to have to be honest with each other and ourselves.”
He also acknowledged what Dallas police have been saying over the past several days, that their new community policing policies and tactics have reduced complaints of excessive force by 64 percent.
“They are deserving of our respect and not our scorn,” he said.
He, like the others, asked for unity, but said that many times after a tragedy old habits return and the commitment to change is left to chance.
But he and others said that the police department and the city should be an example of how to react after such a tragedy, especially how they have honored their fallen officers and how they have committed to take care of their families.
The five officers killed were identified as Dallas police officers Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55; Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48; Officer Michael Krol, 40; and Officer Patrick Zamarippa, 32, and Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55. Also killed was Brent Thompson, 43, an officer with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
Smith, his wife, Heidi, and their two daughters, Victoria and Caroline, are part of the Mary Immaculate Catholic Church community in Farmers Branch, just north of Dallas. Heidi is a fourth-grade teacher at Mary Immaculate Catholic School. A funeral Mass for Smith was to be celebrated July 13 at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church. A second ceremony at Watermark Community Church, where Smith worked some of his off-duty hours as a security guard, was scheduled for July 14.
At a citywide candlelight vigil at Dallas City Hall July 11, the families of the fallen officers gathered to hear others, mostly the partners of each of the officers, pay tribute to those they called heroes.
“I think those that love Mike the most that want to honor his legacy by choosing, because it is a choice, not to let our anger drag us into a darker place, but instead choose to continue Mike’s fight for good and to not let the evil prevail,” said Officer Marcie St. John, his partner.
Police identified the lone gunman as Michael Xavier Johnson, 25, a former Army Reserve veteran who had served in Afghanistan. Authorities said that during tense negotiations the evening of the attack, Johnson talked about wanting to kill white officers and said that “the end is coming.” Authorities have said Johnson was heavily armed when he was killed and that they found other weapons and tactical materials from a search of his home in nearby Mesquite.
Since the shooting, city officials and ecumenical leaders have made it a point to show unity in the wake of any divisive talk.
The mayor and numerous ecumenical leaders, including Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, were joined by several hundred people at an interfaith service in downtown Dallas July 8, just a few hours after, and about a mile from, the site of the ambush. They joined hands and called for unity in the face of polarization and adversity.
On July 9, Bishop Farrell celebrated a special Mass of hope and healing at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Gospel reading at the anticipatory Mass was from Luke 10:25-37, or the parable of the good Samaritan that speaks about love and mercy.
Bishop Farrell said the officers died doing what they do every day. “Protecting us,” he said. He also called for an end to the senseless violence and said that Jesus, through the Scriptures, already had laid out a solution: prayer.
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Sedeno is executive editor of The Texas Catholic and Revista Catolica, the English- and Spanish-language newspapers of the Dallas Diocese.