DALLAS, TEXAS —
As President Barack Obama consoled the families of five police officers who were killed last week in Dallas by a sniper, the city's residents thanked the U.S. leader for his visit, and many asked what happens next.
Inside the symphony center where Obama and former President George W. Bush addressed an interfaith service, Cornelius Robertson said he is glad that the nation's commander-in-chief would "console a city that has suffered a horrible tragedy."
It was right for him to come, said Leonesea Morgan, who was paying respects at a makeshift memorial site outside Dallas police headquarters, "because what happened in Dallas affects the whole nation," she said.
The killing of the five officers and wounding of nine others, as well as two civilians, came at a peaceful protest of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was condemning the shootings of two African-Americans by police in other states. The killer, a former army reservist named Micah Johnson, 25, told police he wanted to kill white people, especially police officers. He was killed early Friday in a standoff with police by a bomb disposal robot rigged with explosives.
Dominique Alexander, founder of Next Generation Action Network, helped organize the Black Lives Matters protest July 7, 2016, in Dallas, a peaceful protest where gunman Micah Johnson killed five police officers. Alexander is shown in Dallas, July 12, 2016
Dominique Alexander of the Next Generation Action Network, one of the organizers of Thursday's Dallas protest, said of the president's visit: "We just want to make sure that he respects the lives that have been lost all week long, not just the officers, but Alton Sterling and Philando Castile."
Sterling was shot in Louisiana as he was held on the ground by two police officers. An officer shot Castile in his car in Minnesota, as his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter looked on.
Both shootings are being investigated, and Obama telephoned the families of the men to offer condolences during his flight to Dallas.
‘Spread love, not hate’
Activist Alexander said he hopes the president and other elected officials are "proactive … and change the laws and the policies that the community across the country is outraged about."
Leonesea Morgan, who is paying her respects to the fallen officers, is also angered by police shootings in Dallas, Texas, July 12, 2016. (M. O'Sullivan/VOA)
Police methods also are on the mind of Morgan, who is African-American and is angered by the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, but says tensions between police and African-Americans are no excuse for the deaths of the officers. She came to the memorial site to pay her respects, but stressed that the tensions are real.
"I've experienced it myself, my husband, and people that I know have, but I feel like we need to spread love and not hate," she said.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown is African-American and is widely praised for his efforts to strengthen relationships with minority communities.
Tony Evans is pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, July 12, 2016. (M. O'Sullivan/VOA)
"That's why the [police complaint] statistics have been so low here," said Dallas clergyman Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, who is Brown's pastor.
"But in many places," Evans said, "things can blow up very quickly" because of a history of tensions and reports of police misconduct.
The minister said churches can play a mediating role, as they did in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Search for common ground
Dallas resident Scott Devine said the tragedy is a reminder that we must be alert to possible violence, and that police and citizens "need to be aware of their surroundings."
Finding common ground is just as important, says retired FBI agent Jerry Fusilier.
Jerry Fusilier, a former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, paid his respects to the fallen Dallas officers in Texas, July 12, 2016. (M. O'Sullivan/VOA)
"I'm 75 years old and I remember a time when this was a close-knit country," he said. "Everyone was patriotic. I hope that we can get back to that. I think if people can understand where each other are coming from, maybe we can begin to heal."
Kerry Jackson was pleased to see his city unified as the president came to Dallas, but would like to see the U.S. leader come more often, instead of traveling overseas.
"We shouldn't have to come together behind tragedy," he said. "I think it should be all the time. Let him show his face a little bit more often here in the United States."
At the Dallas interfaith service, Obama spoke of an "African-American community that feels unfairly targeted by police, and police departments that feel unfairly maligned for doing their jobs." The president assured the Dallas mourners "we are not as divided as we seem."