In the hours before the 25-year-old Army veteran Micah Johnson launched his, in the words of President Obama, “vicious, calculated and despicable” attack on White officers of the Dallas police force, something simultaneously remarkable and ordinary occurred.
Department officials took advantage of the peacefulness of the early-evening demonstration there – organized to protest the killings of two Black men by non-Black police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota – to post pictures of it.
“Men, women, boys & girls gathered @BeloGarden Park for the demonstration re: recent police involved shootings” read the caption to one photo that in other circumstances might have suggested a crowd gathered for an evening outdoor music concert.
Who could have imagined those photos would within hours become part of the evidence of what Johnson sought to destroy – the attempt in Dallas to find a pathway out of a troubled past and a difficult present to mutual trust and cooperation.
Johnson’s murderous rampage that took the lives of five White officers was the work of an enemy of the people. He wasn’t acting “on behalf of” Black Americans in any way. Instead, he was acting out the demons within him he could no longer even partially control. It is striking and revealing that he acted amid a demonstration that had shown police, whose task was to keep order, and a multiracial throng protesting instances of police wrongdoing could occupy the same space respectfully.
Just 12 months ago, much of America was horrified by another murderous rampage committed by Dylann Roof, Micah Johnson’s mirror image across the color line.
Johnson apparently held some Black separatist notions and declared he wanted to kill White people, especially White cops. Roof, trying to find an excuse for his sense of worthlessness, latched on to the pathetic ideology of White supremacy and talked of wanting to start a race war.
Johnson, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, hid under the cover of night in a downtown garage to snipe at police officers whom a day of peace had given no reason to suspect trouble. Roof chose a house of worship to commit his crime against humanity, concealing his true intentions behind a meek countenance and the welcoming embrace of the congregants of Charleston, S.C.’s Emanuel AME Church.
After this latest tragedy, it would be easy to surrender to the dynamic of hatred and violence and despair swirling furiously in American society.
One could note the vile cover the New York Post posted even before Dallas police officials had finished securing the crime scene there. “Civil War,” it screamed – giving vent to the eternal fear-fantasy of White racists of a “Black uprising” against White people.
And one could note the revealing reactions of the National Rifle Association to the police involved killings of Alton B. Sterling, in Louisiana and Philandro Castile and the Dallas massacre.
The NRA’s statement, issued soon after the Dallas gunman had been killed, expressed the “deep anguish all of us feel for the heroic Dallas law enforcement officers who were killed and wounded, as well as to those who so bravely ran toward danger to defend the city and the people of Dallas. With heavy hearts, NRA members honor their heroism and offer our deepest condolences to all of their families.”
What the NRA had to say about the two other tragedies was starkly different. It was completely silent about Alton Sterling’s death. Nor could the NRA leadership bring itself to even mention the name of Philandro Castile – who was licensed to carry a gun and, according to his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, had told the police officer who was to shoot him to death that he had a gun in his car.
Instead, the brief NRA statement meekly read: “… the NRA proudly supports the right of law-abiding Americans to carry firearms for defense of themselves and others regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated. In the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing. Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.”
Yes, callousness, hypocrisy and outright bigotry still play a significant role in the dynamics of America’s “conversation” on race, be it about police-community relations or anything else.
But, one should also note how vigorous, and, thanks to social media, swift was the condemnation from many quarters of the New York Post’s racist cover headline and of the NRA leadership’s callous, cowardly behavior – including from some NRA members.
Those reactions are evidence, one should take hope in believing, that those committed to finding a peaceful way forward – symbolized by the photos of the protest posted by the Dallas police force before tragedy struck – far, far outnumber Micah Johnson, Dylann Roof and all the other enemies of the people.
Lee A. Daniels, a former reporter for The Washington Post and the New York Times, is also a former editor of The National Urban League’s The State of Black America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.