The emotional aftershocks from the nation’s recent spate of fatal shootings by and of police intensified Monday, with the Dallas police chief revealing that he and his family have received death threats ever since a sniper killed five officers there last week.
On the eve of a memorial service for those slain officers, Chief David Brown turned highly personal at a news briefing, speaking of the toll the violence is taking on his department.
“We’re all on edge,” he said. “My brain is fried. I’m running on fumes. … We’re asking cops to do too much in this country.”
Hundreds of miles away, in Louisiana’s East Baton Rouge Parish, the district attorney said he would recuse himself from the investigation into the death of Alton Sterling, one of two black men shot and killed by police last week in incidents caught on video. Prosecutor Hillar C. Moore III cited his close relationship with the parents of one of the officers involved in the case. State officials noted that the Justice Department has taken over the investigation.
The first police account of that deadly encounter, as detailed in an affidavit filed by a Baton Rouge detective, is that officers saw the butt of a gun in Sterling’s front pants pocket while trying to restrain him and opened fire after they saw him reach for the weapon.
Amid the dizzying currents of protest and violence – including the shooting deaths of two bailiffs at a courthouse in Michigan on Monday – President Obama has the difficult task of trying to heal Americans’ growing rifts over race and policing. The president is scheduled to land in Dallas on Tuesday to attend the city’s memorial service, where he will offer condolences to the officers’ families as well as the broader community, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.
Obama will convene a meeting at the White House the following day to bring together all sides of the issue, including law enforcement, activists and civil rights leaders. The goal, Earnest said, is for discussion and solutions to repair “the bonds of trust that have frayed in so many communities between law enforcement officials and the citizens that they’re sworn to serve and protect.”
The demonstrations that had set more than half a dozen cities on edge both day and night slowed Monday, although several hundred people again converged on downtown Chicago. Marches and confrontations with police in recent days have resulted in more than 200 arrests, most in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, Minn., the St. Paul suburb where Philando Castile was fatally shot after a routine traffic stop.
At Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where many victims of Thursday’s rampage that killed the five officers and wounded nine others were taken, trauma surgeon Brian Williams struggled to contain his feelings.
“This experience has been very personal for me and a turning point in my life,” he said at a news conference. “There was the added dynamic of officers being shot – we routinely care for multiple gunshot victims – but the preceding days of more black men dying at the hands of police officers affected me. I think the reasons are obvious. I fit that demographic of individuals.
“But I abhor what has been done to these officers, and I grieve for their families,” Williams added, breathing deeply as he spoke. “I understand the anger and the frustration and distrust of law enforcement. But they’re not the problem. The problem is the lack of open discussions about the impact of race relations in this country. . . . The killing, it has to stop.”
Chief Brown also expressed emotions not often publicly shared by law enforcement officials. At his briefing, in addition to mentioning the death threats via Facebook, he spoke of having to prepare for the five funerals that will begin Wednesday. But he also invoked his inner strength. “I’m a person of faith. I’m here today as a testament to God’s grace and sweet tender mercies,” he said.
He then spoke of the challenges for police across the country, who he said are facing increasing pressure from all sides, and revealed that he was considering mandating that all of his force seek counseling in coming months.
For those Americans demonstrating against police in their own cities, Brown had a message.
“Become a part of the solution,” he said. “We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. And we’ll put you in your neighborhood, and we’ll help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.”
Authorities have said Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, an Army veteran, shot the officers during a Black Lives Matter protest. Later, police detonated a bomb-carrying robot in the parking garage where he had fled, killing him.
Police revealed additional details Monday, saying 11 officers fired back at Johnson and two others controlled the robot. They said the department is conducting a comprehensive investigation, including reviewing dash-cam videos from police cars and other videos from businesses in the downtown area.
Johnson’s parents broke their public silence Monday, saying in an interview with the Blaze that his behavior changed after he was discharged from the Army last year. Delphine Johnson said her son had previously been fun-loving but became a “hermit” after his six-year service, which included a deployment to Afghanistan.
“The military was not what Micah thought it would be,” Delphine Johnson said. “He was very disappointed, very disappointed.” She added: “He loved his country. He wanted to protect his country.”
In Michigan, authorities revealed little about the shooting at the courthouse in Berrien County, saying only that there was “a disturbance” on the third floor shortly before 2:30 p.m. They did not identify the inmate involved, who was being transferred and was able to grab a gun and open fire. He fatally shot both bailiffs and wounded a deputy before being shot and killed himself.
Chuck Heit, the Berrien County undersheriff, said both bailiffs were armed and had been “deputized,” making them the latest law enforcement officers killed at work. That brings the number of officers fatally shot by suspects while in the line of duty this year to 27, up from 16 at this point a year ago, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. The total is two ahead of the average number at this point in the year shown in FBI data over the past decade.
On the other side of the divide, 515 people have been shot and killed by police nationwide in 2016, the Post analysis found.