Dallas Protest Organizer Recounts The Event's Deadly Turn | KERA News

Dallas Protest Organizer Recounts The Event's Deadly Turn

Jul 8, 2016
Originally published on July 8, 2016 1:15 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And we begin this morning with grim news out of Dallas. At least five police officers are dead and at least seven wounded after snipers opened fire during a demonstration in the city's downtown. Two civilians were also wounded in the attack.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The marchers were protesting the recent deaths of two black men killed by police in Minnesota and Louisiana this week. Around 9 p.m., as protesters were approaching City Hall, shots rang through the air.

MARTIN: As people ran for cover, many people, including Michael Kevin Bautista, captured the scene and posted the footage to social media.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, GUN SHOTS)

GREENE: Wyatt Rosser was a protester at the rally last night in downtown Dallas. He described to member station KERA how this scene turned from a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally into chaos.

WYATT ROSSER: It started out as what was, to me, the most - the biggest and most inspiring rally I had been to in Dallas. The speakers were great, and everything was peaceful and beautiful until the end of the march. I was near the front of the march. We were almost back to our starting point and linked in arms whenever I heard gunshots.

And everyone scattered and ran in all directions. And the moment - it was just kind of chaos. Everybody's running. So I guess I should run, too.

MARTIN: Police have three suspects in custody. One of the suspected gunmen died after a standoff with police. Dallas police Chief David Brown spoke about the motivation of one of the suspects.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID BROWN: The suspect said 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.

MARTIN: Obviously, all of this is still unfolding as the investigation begins. We are bringing you the latest verified information as we get it. We're going to bring in a couple voices to flesh this out with us. NPR's Martin Kaste is the national correspondent who covers law enforcement. We've also got NPR's Wade Goodwyn, who is in Dallas.

And Wade, I'm going to start with you. Just moments ago, a remarkable press conference - the police chief of Dallas spoke - David Brown - as well as the mayor of that city. David Brown saying we are heartbroken - we are a city that is hurting. What else struck you about their remarks?

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Well, a couple of things - I was interested that they weren't going to give any information about the suspects, which the reporter in me isn't thrilled about. But I'm - on the other hand, I think, given the explosive situation - that there makes some sense - it also makes me wonder, you know, just how sure they are of these suspects.

Maybe they don't want to talk too much about these suspects until they do more investigation. The other thing that struck me was his comments about the suspect that was killed by the police bomb.

MARTIN: We should - just to clarify - after hours of a standoff with this particular suspect in a parking garage, negotiations broke down. And the police sent in an explosive device. And that suspect was killed in that.

GOODWYN: Right. And during those negotiations, the suspect said that - you know, he said that he was a lone gunman. And the police chief said that, you know, he didn't necessarily buy that - that they were still going to look out there for possible suspects. But for the first time, I think it kind of raised the possibility that perhaps there was just one sniper - not two - if what this gunman said was correct in these negotiations.

GREENE: Martin Kaste, let me bring you in here if I can. I mean, the way the police chief described this is - they sent in some sort of robot to get nearby and actually detonate a bomb remotely and kill this suspect they were negotiating with. Have you ever seen anything like this before?

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The robots, yes - I mean, the robots will go to any police trade show for the gear that they use. And they're front and center. These are usually used - they're sent in with cameras on them. Or they'll bring in a cell phone for negotiation - something like that. To send a robot in with an explosive device to kill a suspect - that I've not heard of.

MARTIN: We're going to bring in another voice into the conversation. Stella Chavez is a reporter with KERA, our member station in Dallas. And Stella, during this press conference, we heard both the police chief and the mayor really praise the Police Department.

And the police chief, in particular, said in response to a question about how this will affect how police treat protests in the future - he said that this is not going to jeopardize our democracy - that this one event will not undermine freedom of speech. What did you hear out of that press conference in particular about this department and its relationship with the community of Dallas?

STELLA CHAVEZ, BYLINE: Well, I think it's that they - one of things I was struck by is the police chief describing the police running toward, you know, the action, which - we all know police officers run toward danger while everyone else runs away.

But in - you know, in looking at the coverage last night and listening to all of the witnesses who were there, you know, they were all fearful for their life. And people were visibly shocked by what happened to the police officers - people who were there at the protests.

I saw reports of, you know, people saying this was a peaceful march - that they - the officers were, you know, very - they acted, you know, normal toward the police - the people - who were there. I mean, there was no animosity between the two, even though it was a protest march.

GREENE: It sounds like one of the extraordinary things here, Stella, was that, I mean, there was sort of a connection between police and peaceful protesters. We've been hearing this from other people in law enforcement who said that that is truly part of the tragedy here.

I mean, there were police officers who were protecting protesters, trying to keep this peaceful. And then when shots are rang out, you know, you have police officers who are trying to protect civilians and then some of these officers getting shot themselves.

MARTIN: We've lost the line to Stella Chavez. We've been speaking with her. She's a reporter with our member station at KERA in Dallas. We have been following this story all morning. We will continue to bring you information and voices to give you perspective on this tragedy.

We're joined now by Jeff Hood. He is one of the organizers of the protest that took place last night in Dallas. Jeff, thank you so much for being with us.

JEFF HOOD: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Can you just describe, as you witnessed it, what happened? When did things start to turn?

HOOD: About 36 hours ago, you know, we decided that there needed to be, you know, some type of response to these videos coming out of Baton Rouge and St. Paul here in Dallas. And so we begin to organize this protest. And the entire time, it was certainly intended to be a nonviolent, peaceful protest.

And we got there. There was a lot of anger - in a lot of ways, rightfully so. You know, a lot of people let off a lot of steam. There was a lot of grief. There was a lot of networking. And we marched. And, you know, certainly, everything was peaceful. The police were commenting at how peaceful and nonviolent it was.

We get to the end of the march - about three-fourths of the way, probably. I am talking to a police sergeant. And all of a sudden, I heard pa, pa, pa, pa, pa, pa, pa. And at first, I didn't know what happened. Once I realized what happened, I was close enough to where I was rubbing my stomach and rubbing my chest because I thought it was possible that I'd been shot.

The sergeant ran towards the shooting. And I knew that I had over 800 people behind me that I was responsible for. And so I was carrying a black wooden cross. And so that wooden cross instantaneously became a shepherd's crook. And I was screaming, you know, active shooter, active shooter, out of the way, active shooter, active shooter. Run, run, run, run.

You know, here in America, people are so used to violence that it doesn't compute with them a lot of times when these situations pop off. And, you know, I'm screaming, go, go, go, go, go. And people start to realize what's going on. And they start running, you know. In that crowd was my wife. And she ran. I didn't know where she was. I didn't know where a lot of people were.

I did multiple interviews. And I eventually get to a point where I'm sitting in the lobby of one of the television stations just weeping - I mean, just devastated that these five officers have lost their lives - that they won't be going home to their families this morning. I am devastated. I am angry. I am frustrated.

MARTIN: Let me ask you, Jeff - do you have any idea who the suspects were involved in this?

HOOD: We don't. I know one of the suspects that they arrested that they ultimately said wasn't involved. But at the end of the day, this was a calculated, planned tactical attack. This is not the work of peaceful protesters. This was the work of people who had planned this out very much in advance.

MARTIN: I understand you're a pastor.

HOOD: I am.

MARTIN: How do you minister in a moment like this?

HOOD: You've got to believe that love is the only thing that can see us through. I mean, I'm at a point in my life where I believe now more than ever that we cannot stop violence with violence - that if we continue to resort to violence, we are going to continue to devastate and destroy our communities.

MARTIN: Jeff Hood - one of the organizers of the protests in Dallas last night. Thank you so much for talking with us.

HOOD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.