Enemies of the people
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 underscored 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 — by posting pictures of it that in other circumstances might have suggested a crowd gathered for an evening outdoor music concert.
Within hours those photos would 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: It is 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.
The Dallas massacre comes little more than twelve months after the murderous rampage committed in Charleston, South Carolina by Micah Johnson’s mirror image across the color line, Dylann Roof.
Johnson held some mumbo-jumbo black separatist notions and declared he wanted to kill white people, especially white cops. Roof 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 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 Emanuel AME Church.
After this latest tragedy, it would be easy to surrender to the dynamic of hatred and callousness that erupted in some quarters amid last week’s bloodshed.
One example was the vile front page of the New York Post newspaper that screamed “Civil War” — 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.”
But the NRA was completely silent about Alton Sterling’s death. Nor, in a brief comment about the Minnesota incident, could its 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, NRA statement meekly read: “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 journalist, keynote speaker and author, is writing a book on the Obama years and the 2016 election. He can be reached at email@example.com.