As they sorted through their shock, horror and grief, Dallas residents gathered in Thanksgiving Square yesterday to pray for the victims of a sniper attack that left five law enforcement officers dead and nine people wounded on Thursday night.
Just half a day after peaceful protest ended in a rain of bullets, faith and civic leaders sought to reassure and rally residents. Police were still piecing together the events: details about the shooter and his motivations, about his victims and the survivors. Representatives from a host of faiths told the crowd that this is the time for change. Bishop T.D. Jakes leads the megachurch Potter's House.
“We cannot turn our heads the other way when tragedy strikes someone who votes different, or dresses differently, or even believes differently,” Jakes said. “For the tragedy that we ignore today will be on our door step tomorrow.”
Speakers at the vigil praised the police for their bravery, for their dedication, for their sacrifice. The crowd gave a tired-looking Dallas Police Chief David Brown a minute-long ovation.
“In the police profession, we’re very comfortable with not hearing thank you from citizens who especially need us the most,” Brown said to cheers of thanks. “So today feels like a different day than the days before this tragedy.”
Thanking the police, though, did not mean speakers were uncritical. Thursday night’s protests came after two more black men were shot and killed by police officers. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told the crowd that it’s time to fix the nation’s racial divide. The 61-year-old blamed his generation for failing to make progress.
“It is on our watch that we have allowed this to continue to fester, that we have led the next generation down a vicious path of rhetoric and actions that pit one against the other,” Rawlings said.
Rawlings went on to call for nuance, for understanding that criticism should be focused on those who deserve it.
“The question is, can we as citizens speak against the actions of a relatively few officers who blemish the reputation of their high calling and at the same time support and defend the 99 percent of officers who do their job professionally, honestly, and bravely,” Rawlings said.
Out in the crowd, Shynemia Polk, says the answer is: absolutely.
“We have our bad apples just like the police have their bad apples,” Polk said. “But we can’t judge off of those bad apples.”
This Iraq veteran sat with her army buddy and her 8-year-old daughter Maddisyn. She needed to support her city. While she didn’t go to the protest the night before, Polk says supported it.
“I’m for black lives matter. I’m also for all lives matter. But right now, I’m leaning on black lives matter right now,” Polk said. “Those police officers didn’t deserve that last night. Because they have families. Just like those two men that were killed. Just like Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin. They had families.”
For Jack Arias, seeing Dallas residents coming together across faiths felt empowering. He’s Christian, but he brought his shofar – an ancient Jewish instrument made from a ram’s horn.
“You blow the shofar to announce love, which is Jesus Christ -- Yeshua Ha-Maschiach in Hebrew – and just to bring together all the people, all the languages, all the tribes just as one group of people,” Arias said.
Arias says even if it was in response to tragedy, seeing people coming together felt like a step toward overcoming longstanding divides.