It’s Friday morning in Dallas and 22 blocks of the ninth most populous U.S. city’s core remains an active crime scene. Twelve officers were shot by U.S. Army veteran Micah Xavier Johnson. He killed five. More than 50 years ago, another ex-soldier took John F. Kennedy’s life just one block away from yesterday’s tragic scene. The city, and nation, mourns once again.
How did we get here?
Last night, at least one thousand people of different races and creeds marched through downtown Dallas protesting the disproportionate and often fatal police brutality against black Americans. At the center of the protest were the most recent police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Sterling was gunned down outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while selling CDs; Castile was murdered as he reached for his wallet during a traffic stop after he notified police he was legally carrying a firearm.
The protest in Dallas, however, was peaceful.
“Everyone was in good spirits,” says Dallas local, Jasmine Reyes, 23. “Of course there were people who were very emotional or, you could say very angry, but for the most part people were really there to show support.” If you scroll through social media, you’ll find pictures of protesters and police cheesing for photographs together. Dallas Police Department, which is certainly not above reproach, has a good track record when it comes to handling protests and is improving its once bleak and macabre record on brutality.
Solidarity was in the air, which was exhilarating.
“You couldn’t feel nothing but power surrounding you. Not just white. Not just black. Not just Mexican. Not just Indian. Everyone was supporting each other. A thousand people strong. You had no choice but to feel like big shit walking in that crowd,” says Adontis Barber, 27, one of the protesters. “It was a beautiful scene up until, like, 8:30.”
You couldn’t feel nothing but power surrounding you. Not just white. Not just black. Not just Mexican. Not just Indian. Everyone was supporting each other. A thousand people strong.
Barber says that around that time, as dusk started to settle on Dallas, he heard gunshots near El Centro Community College. “Everything went to hell, in a matter of seconds,” he says. His initial thoughts: “Protect the kids…that was the most upsetting part. That there were kids there. It was their first protest. We didn’t have no guns. We wasn’t yelling ‘fuck the cops.’”
Reyes, who was towards the back of the crowd didn’t hear the shots. “We just saw everyone running and we all just started running. We didn’t really know what we were running from,” she says. “We didn’t really think anything of it because the whole night was easygoing and peaceful.”
Dallas-based rapper Nick “Raw Elementz” Whitener, 24, was near El Centro when the chaos began. He says he started running, but that the reality didn’t set in until he saw police swarming the streets with assault rifles and a police officer pointing to a perched sniper. “That’s when everybody started really spreading like wildfire. Dispersing, just running away. That’s when the streets started getting blocked off,” Whitener says.
Barber says that after police rushed in and set perimeters, public transportation was shut down and areas were on lockdown: “There was no traffic in and out of downtown. I didn't make it home until like 4 a.m. I had to go to work at 8 a.m….no I’m not going to work today.”
Reyes ended up with approximately 20 other people at Downtown Dallas’ Union Station, a few blocks southwest of El Centro Community College, until about 2 a.m.. They tried their best to piece the evening together. She says they tried to keep it light-hearted and supportive.
Barber headed to Deep Ellum—an area just outside of Downtown Dallas renowned as a live music hub—as soon as he was given the okay to leave from officers. “You could still hear the gunshots walking away from downtown. That shit is spooky as fuck. The safest place I could find was Deep Ellum. It was warzone—night and day,” he says. “In Deep Ellum, you could hear a church mouse piss on cotton.”
The aftermath of the shooting will undoubtedly have a negative effect on efforts to provide racial equality for black Americans. Texas Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, has already shown his ass with violent imagery, blaming Black Lives Matter for the vigilante attack. He called protesters hypocrites for running from gunfire. Another conservative troll, Tomi Lahren, likened Black Lives Matter to the Klu Klux Klan as though activists were seeking bloodshed, rather than accountability for human rights violations.
But, the people on the front lines tell a different story.
“What we really want is peace. Not just for ourselves, but for our children. Not just for children, but for our family. Not just for family, but for everyone,” Barber says. “The spirit of peace, the spirit of empowerment, truly, that was what was under attack.”