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COVER: Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday reads a speech during an evening vigil to honor five slain Dallas police officers at the state Capitol on July 14, 2016. PHOTO by QILING WANG

by ANERI PATTANI

AUSTIN — Law enforcement officials, legislators and citizens formed a sea of blue Thursday night at the state Capitol, raising blue glow sticks in the air during a vigil to honor the lives of the five police officers who were killed in Dallas one week ago.

More than 100 people gathered at the vigil, organized by the Austin Police Department and local police unions, to remember fallen officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens. State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo lauded the the slain officers for their service during the deadly shooting and urged people to unite in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“Our differences don’t dictate that we be divided,” Watson said. “It’s time to throw away labels and hear each other.”

The five Dallas officers died when Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, opened fire on police last Thursday night, striking 10 Dallas Police Department officers and one from Dallas Area Rapid Transit. The shooting came at the end of a peaceful protest by hundreds against the two recent police killings of black men Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Their deaths spurred protests around the country, several led by Black Lives Matter, a group that has decried law enforcement’s treatment of minorities.

Law enforcement officials traveled from across the country to attend the vigil, which was held in front of the Texas Peace Officer’s Memorial, a monument to all Texas law enforcement officials who have died in the line of duty. A wreath of yellow flowers stood in front of the monument as a symbol of the Dallas community, with five red roses placed inside to commemorate the five officers’ lives.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo echoed Watson’s calls for unity, telling the crowd that it is time to stop painting entire groups with a broad brush.

“Let’s put that brush down, and let’s get to know one another,” he said.

In that spirit, the police chief introduced Fatima Mann, A black activist from the social justice advocacy group Austin Justice Coalition, who noted the importance of protecting all lives.

“People died in Dallas just because they were police officers, and that’s not OK,” she said. “But people died every day because they look like me, and that’s not OK either.”

During his speech, Watson also denounced “any political leader who tries to divide us with thoughtless rhetoric” — a veiled reference to Dan Patrick, who in the wake of the shooting <blamed the Black Lives Matter movement and activists for the incident. Patrick later defended his comments but expressed some regret over his choice of words.

As the vigil ended, the Austin Police Pipes and Drum Corps played Amazing Grace and the attendees raised blue glow sticks in the air.

ANERI PATTANI reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

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