An Oral History of Three Days That Rocked America

At 6 pm on Thursday, July 7, about 800 people gathered to protest the killings of Sterling and Castile. At the end of the two-hour march, a former Army reservist named Micah Johnson opened fire, killing officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa.

Jeff Hood

One of the march organizers

I first saw the video of Alton Sterling on Facebook on Tuesday night, and I began to realize that we needed a response here in Dallas. We started organizing it on Wednesday afternoon, and when we saw this new video that came out of Falcon Heights, Minnesota, the awareness of our rally just skyrocketed. It went from dozens, maybe a couple hundred, to almost a thousand people based on the fact that there were two instances.

Hannah Wise

Breaking-news reporter for The Dallas Morning News, who livestreamed the protest

After Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed within 48 hours of each other, we knew that whatever was going to happen at that rally, we needed to be there live. We wanted to give our community a chance to be a part of this moment digitally rather than them having to drive an hour to get into downtown Dallas during rush hour.

Dominique Alexander

President and founder of Next Generation Action Network and one of the organizers of the march

The crowd wrapped around a couple of street blocks. We were two blocks from being done and pretty much just wrapping it up, thanking everybody for coming out. You know: job well done.

Hood

All of a sudden I hear pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. It became apparent quickly that it was gunshots, and we began to push people out of the way. We were screaming: “Active shooter, active shooter, go, go, go” and “Turn around, turn around, go, go, go. Get back, get back, get back.”

Wise

An officer threw me into a doorframe so I could be protected, but I kept livestreaming. Thousands of people were watching at this point, and people were looking for answers. If I’d stopped, I’d worry that people would say that I’m censoring something from the public. At the same time, I’m thinking, “I don’t want to show a dead body, I don’t want to give away police positions because I don’t want to endanger any officers.”

Michael Kevin Bautista

Protester who was livestreaming when the shooting began

I know my video wasn’t the greatest, but I know the whizzing sounds of bullets passing my head were definitely real. At the time I remember thinking, “It’s necessary for me to keep this camera rolling.” People wanted the truth, people wanted to know what was going on. I remember hearing the scraping of the bullets and the crashing of glass and the dropping of the police officers right there in front of me.

Sana Syed

Head of the Dallas Public Information Office

We know that within the first hour we want to do a press conference and tell the public and the media as much as we can. In the middle of everything, a little before midnight, Chief Brown [head of the Dallas Police Department] says the fugitive center has a picture of a suspect and we need to get that out now. Just then, our whole system crashes. Everyone’s network goes down, and we’re not getting emails, and the fugitive center isn’t able to send us a picture of this guy. It was complete chaos. But somehow we get a hard copy of the picture, and I take a picture of it with my phone, and I push it up on my social media account. It was retweeted and shared thousands and thousands of times over again.

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Mark Hughes

The protester who carried an AR-15 during the march and would later be identified on Twitter as a suspect

The original post said there were two shooters: They released the image of the person who actually did the shooting, and then they released my image.

Syed

He was someone the police wanted to talk to, period. Within a couple of hours, he was on the news, talking about getting an attorney. And we’re all like, really? Five of our cops just died. You were in camo, with a rifle strapped to you, and you’re mad that you were picked out of a crowd and questioned? At that point, Chief Brown was not ready to say that someone was not a suspect yet, and he was not convinced that it was just one person.

Hughes

I can tell you one thing: I have no problem with coming to me and saying, “You know what, it was a shooting, you had a gun, we just want to make sure everything is fine.” That’s not the issue. My concern is they took my image and put it on Twitter.

Syed

We finally cornered the shooter in a parking garage, and when the negotiators were talking to him, he said there were bombs placed throughout the city and that more officers were going to die. So that’s why we sent in that robot [equipped with a bomb, which the police then detonated to kill the shooter]. That was the only way to get to him without putting any more officers’ lives in danger.

King

I traditionally have hated that line “it’s open season on cops.” But when five officers get shot by an assassin, it would be hard to say they’re wrong. They feel like they are under attack, because in those cases they are.

Ron Pinkston

President of the Dallas Police Association

I don’t know if the events [in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights] are what made the cowardly shooter do what he did. It seemed like, from what I was hearing, his mindset was already going in that direction.

Garza

What do people in power expect, when power is not used to protect the lives of every single person in this country? What do they expect? And when, over and over again, there’s overwhelming evidence that this is happening, that it’s happening too often, that it’s happening with no consequence—when faced with that, it’s completely plausible to me that there would be some people out there who would say, fuck it. That’s not my position. That’s not the position of the organization that I’m a part of. But I can’t in good conscience say I don’t understand why that happens.

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