Shots Ring Out in Dallas: Sad News for America

Last night, we went to sleep in the dark of night after the television shut down at one in the morning, stilling the voices of the CNN reporters and anchors and the indistinct yelling of people running in the streets of downtown Dallas trailed off.

But one thing was hard to shake and lingered like breadcrumbs on bedsheets: it was the distinct noise made by the sound of guns or a gun being fired. It was loud, insistent, particular, not like fireworks, or pop-pops, not like anything at all.  It rode over the voices telling us facts or semi-facts. It rode over the voices calling for calm. It rode over the voices not calm, but panicky and breathless. It rode over the voices of police officers on their radios, calling for help.

That gun fire sound, sharp, controlled, demanding to be heard and remembered. That was the sound of Dallas, on July 7, 2016, just as a Black Lives Matter rally and demonstration, protesting the shooting of two black men by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday and in Minnesota on Wednesday, was breaking up.  Police in Dallas had been protecting and overseeing the generally peaceful rally, interacting with demonstrators, having their picture taken with them.

Those shots and their sound ended one story and began another, and yet, the stories were tied inextricably together by the spilling of blood. Until those shots rang out, there were demonstrations in major cities all over the country, including Washington, D.C., where marchers had spilled over onto the steps of the capitol. Until those shots  rang out, the talk over social media had been about the death of Alton B. Sterling being shot in Louisiana, while being held down by police officers, and Philando Castile, a cook, who had been shot by an officer after a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, a Minneapolis suburb. His fiancé, Diamond Reynolds, put a wrenching video of her boyfriend’s dying moments, while her young child was in the back seat, on Facebook.  Together, the two deaths had sparked shock and outrage, and a speech by President Barack Obama, in which, in specific, reasoned and measured terms, he outlined the issue of shootings of black men by white police officers.

That’s what people where talking about yesterday afternoon and during the nightly news, more than anything.  But then, like a startling, violent intrusion, like a television home invasion, but also like a punctuation mark, the shots rang out in Dallas, and everything changed and everything came together.   In the end, 12 police officers, targeted apparently by a single (or possibly more) sniper had been shot. Five of them were dead, including transit officer Brent Thompson and Dallas police officer Patrick Zamarripa.

Today, a shooter, with whom police had talked, was identified — Micah Xavier Johnson of Mesquite, Texas — who had told police he was upset about Black Lives Matter, about black men being killed by white officers, had said that he wanted to kill white police officers. Johnson was killed by a robot explosive device.

There has been, as always, great confusion: Interviews with frantic witnesses, a picture of a “person of interest,” carrying a gun sent out by police (he turned himself in) arguments and many official voices urging calm and togetherness. “This has got to stop,” said the Dallas Police chief. “This divisiveness has got to stop.  We’ve got to work together. This atmosphere where law enforcement and the public they protect see themselves at odds with each other, that’s got to stop.”

President Obama’s speech — from Warsaw, Poland — with a later speech, in which he condemned the murders as “viscious” and praised law enforcement officers who risk their lives to protect the public. Both reactions of presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were full of sympathy for the victims and the dead. Trump called for “a return to law and order.”

There were more intemperate comments and cries, especially from politicians, including congressmen who this week failed to act on yet another bill which would have expanded background checks on the purchase of automatic weapons, of the kind that were used to great effect in Dallas.

Watching the nightmare unfold on television — Fox News or CNN (the other networks continued their late night offerings, which seemed bizarre) — was being given the full barrage of how media news works today. It was an unsettling experience — anchors talking, interviewing police officers, demonstrators, night-time, greenish and blurred scenes of downtown Dallas, including the Bank of America building, people running wildly, policemen ducking behind cars, a video in which the shooter seems to be stalking a policeman and shooting him.

On television, beneath the main screen is a running news crawl, like a Wall Street ticker tape, reporting on updates, on the killer, on suspects arrested or not arrested, on the number of victims, and on other, ongoing matters, including the other shootings in Louisiana and Minneapolis, where Governor Mark Dayton said, “Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white? I don’t think it would have.”

On the news ticker, you saw running words from the president’s first speech and then this morning, from his new speech, merging and mixing together. You saw that a suspect had been arrested for setting homeless men on fire in Los Angeles. The State Department was reopening its investigation into the Clinton emails. This morning, the family of Philando Castile was holding a press conference and being interviewed by CNN.  It was an odd and wrenching moment of intimacy and outcry.

But those sounds, those loud sounds persisted — and the words of the presumed shooter, his expressed hatreds. They lay on our minds like an awful, irrefutable fact. “They woke up this morning not knowing what would happen to them that night,” somebody noted about the policemen who died in the Dallas gunfire.

After Orlando, after terror and 50 persons shot in Chicago over the weekend, after the Fourth of July, came all this. “It’s terrible,” a Safeway worker told me yesterday. “And tell you what, it’s going to get worse.”

You didn’t need Marvin Gaye to ask “What’s Goin’ on?”  But the words reverberate: “Mother, mother/there’s too many of you crying/brother, brother, brother there’s far too many of you dying/you know we’ve got to find a way to bring some loving’ here today.”

But that noise, it’s loud.  Today, it’s louder than anything.  It’s a sleep-disturber, a dream-invader. Maybe this is the thing. maybe these dead will be the ones that define the moment and the future. Then again, probably not.

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