DALLAS — A sniper killed five police officers during a Black Lives Matter march on Thursday night and in the aftermath, the peaceful protesters downtown say they were wrongly blamed for the massacre.
Dallas chief of police David Brown said Friday morning that the gunman, who has was unaffiliated with any group, said he wanted to kill white police officers. Before this was known, fingers were pointed in all directions over who was to blame for the massacre.
Hundreds of people of all races were marching down Lamar Street between Commerce and Main, mere blocks from Dealey Plaza where President Kennedy was assassinated, when gunfire erupted around 9 p.m. Police and eyewitnesses say two snipers began firing from the top floor of a parking garage.
“Pop, pause, pop, pause. Then you see the first two officers go down,” said Jamal Johnson, who attended the evening’s rally and remained behind among bewildered protesters and gathering bystanders waiting for answers.
Over the next several hours, twelve total police officers would be shot, in addition to two civilians, including a mother who was shielding her children. Seven officers remain injured. Both civilians are expected to be OK.
Just before 3 a.m., one of the suspects died after a long standoff. During negotiations, he said, "The end is near." The man was eventually killed by police, who used a robotic explosive device.
“We cornered one suspect, and we tried to negotiate for several hours,” Brown recalled. “We had an exchange of gunfire with the suspect, and we saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was. Other options would have exposed the officers to grave danger. The suspect is deceased as a result of the detonating the bomb.”
That slain suspect was later identified as Micah Xavier Johnson, from Mesquite, Texas.
Brown said Micah Johnson told negotiators that “he was upset about Black Lives Matter, he said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers. The suspect stated he was not affiliated with any groups, and he stated that he did it alone.”
Chief Brown, who is black, said his department is reeling from the losses and commended brave officers on the scene.
"Seeing the courage, professionalism and the grit to stay on scene in an area looking for suspects knowing that we are vulnerable...running toward gunfire to help the injured officers to get them transported to the hospital by patrol car—there's so many stories of great courage," he said.
During the chaos, police mistakenly identified to the media a man named Mark Hughes, an activist for open carry, as a suspect. A local TV station later found Hughes, who has hired a lawyer and said that he was laughing and joking with police officers before the ambush. Hughes claimed police took him into custody and interrogated him, falsely claiming to have surveillance footage of him firing a weapon.
“It was persecution on me,” he said. "I could've easily been shot."
Last night's wicked act has inflamed the growing mood of racial confrontation in America.
“The other officers began to think that the protesters were the ones who were actually firing, but the protesters were peaceful. They were running for their lives. They were terrified,” Jamal Johnson told The Daily Beast. “They fired about 14, 15 return shots once they realized where the shooters were shooting from,” pointing toward the 12-story parking garage off Bank of America Plaza.
“When we came tonight everything was so peaceful, man. It was united,” said Johnson, recounting the evening’s events. “And for them [the shooters] to ruin it like that.”
Amid the confusion and terror of gunfire, fear and anger soon turned on police.
“Don’t shoot him!” a voice shrieked, cutting through the aftermath as reporters, myself included, spoke to members of the crowd trying to make sense of the night’s events. One of the officers pointing his gun into the gathered crowd from behind the tape that had been drawn across the street to contain the scene.
Hands shot up as police on the scene instructed a crowd member to come forward. The man, in his forties and wearing camo pants and an ill-fitting bullet proof vest, hands also in the air, walked towards the police line where he was brought to the ground and cuffed. Fear quickly turned to outrage, and crowd members began to shout as police shouted back and strobed their flashlights.
“Don’t kill him!” someone screamed.
Another instructed a news crew cameraman to approach the line and film footage. Dozens held their phones up, many streaming the events via Facebook Live, a mere 24 hours after Diamond Reynolds streamed her boyfriend Philando Castile as he lay dying in his car beside her. That video has since been viewed 4.8 million times, and—along with the killing of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police—spurred tonight's protest.
Referring to the protester in the bulletproof vest, activists shouted in his defense.
“He was with us the whole time, he was marching with us,” they yelled above the sirens and looming helicopter drone.
“How many people you need to tell you he was with us the whole time?” said protester David Sansalone. “Y’all just seen a prime example of why black people get killed by scared police officers.”
“They know he ain’t the shooter,” the crowd erupted as the arrest continued, their fellow protester put in a car and driven from the scene. “They hunt them down,” someone yelled. “You can’t protect me,” screamed another.
A black man and a white woman, both protesters, began arguing as the night’s tensions turned their communal fear and frustration with the police into a battle of oppression and injustice.
Changa, an organizer with the Dallas Action Coalition, was calm and deliberate when he told The Daily Beast about the night’s events.
“If you don’t give the people justice after a certain amount of time they get hopeless and seek other means of justice.” In his 20 years of activism, Changa said, he could not get any response from the local Dallas community. “So it’s sad, but it’s ironic.”
He claimed to have talked with a fellow protester who spoke with the shooters beforehand. “We gonna kill somebody tonight,” the shooters allegedly told the protester. He described them as “young black guys,” and continued to note that “they’re not part of this community.”
Crowds slowly dispersed, but the anger didn't.
One man ranted about gentrification, pacing the street while shouting, “It’s because they got to appease these whiny ass white people that live around here.”
Nearby a woman stood with a stroller; she and two children were wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts. The youngest sat grasping into the air after the helicopter lights.
When television screens inside a corner bar lit up with a photo of the suspected shooter, the crowd swarmed, and then quickly thinned and dispersed. One protester commented that he hoped there was no resemblance. The fear was palpable.
A lone officer, C. Thornton, stood on the other side of the line speaking with Changa and other organizers and community advocates. “To me, just because I’m black doesn’t mean I can’t change the world,” said a young girl with braids. “You can change the world, too,” one of the organizers told Officer Thornton.