By AMANDA KIMBLE
ERATH COUNTY (July 8, 2016) – A city, state, nation is mourning.
Following a peaceful – nonviolent – protest by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement in Dallas on July 7, a sniper fired upon an unsuspecting crowd. The seemingly organized shooter showered bullets from above, targeting police officers – killing five and injuring six others.
The incident followed growing unrest across the nation, related to the death of several black men who were shot and killed by law enforcement officials. Those incidents occurred in far away cities like Detroit, New York and beyond the state line in Louisiana, Minnesota.
Dallas, is about 100 miles northeast of the city of Stephenville, still the news weighed on residents who watched news reports in disbelief as the events unfolded.
“This isn’t something you expect to happen so close to home, not in Texas,” one area resident posted on Facebook. “Pray these individuals are caught and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Dallas officials had three suspects in custody shortly after the horrifying incident. The following morning a fourth suspect – reportedly killed by an explosive police-operated robot following hours of failed negotiation – was identified as Micah Johnson. The 25-year-old Dallas area resident told police he wanted to kill white people, specifically white law enforcement officials, according to Dallas Police Chief David Brown.
In Erath County, Sheriff Tommy Bryant reacted to the news, saying he and other veteran law enforcement officials were “shocked.”
“I have a number of former Dallas police officers who have worked for me and it’s even shocking to them,” he said.
For Bryant it’s a double dose of disbelief. He is seeing two sides of a horrifying situation. Professionally, his mind is on the law enforcement officials he oversees, the police officers who lost their lives and entire peacekeeping community.
“What the law enforcement community has to deal with today is ridiculous,” Bryant said. “The working environment is a scary place where we have to worry about things like methamphetamine and how it has people doing crazy things. The realities of what they – we – could experience has them on edge, on their toes when doing something that should be a simple and routine traffic stop. Police officers’ lives are constantly at risk.”
Personally, Bryant’s mind is on his son, a young African American adult, and how that community has been affected.
“Being the parent of a dark-skinned child, I’ve seen him come home upset after a trip to a local retail store, where people followed him around, watching him and making sure he wasn’t going to steal something,” Bryant said. “I’ve seen his face when he comes home from school, telling us about people – fellow students, young people – on his college campus moving to the other side of the sidewalk to avoid passing him and avoid being near him. The African American community, we should all be able to in some way relate to their frustration. We should at least be able to see what they are experiencing.”
In a world where the threat of foreign terror attacks is a reality, Bryant said the current state of unrest is a more “frightening concept,” threatening something much more terrifying – civil war.
“It’s terrible all the way around,” he said. “You would think by now, in 2016, the racial issues, the comments people make and the things they do to one another would be history. I don’t think it is as bad as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, but the racism and the hatred are apparently never going to stop.”
He agreed many of the issues following a brewing race war have always been present, but social media, where anyone can say anything and offer reactions and opinions they would never utter in a public, fuels a raging fire that can reach hundreds of thousands of people instantly.
But, as people, connected by devices and through virtual anonymity react, about the chaos in which they live, Bryant said the reactions in his office are not drastically different.
“It’s very quiet in here,” he said. “Nobody is saying a whole lot. I think in some ways, we are numb to what has happened. And there is the fact that these are realities we face everyday.”
Bryant said whether they are on or off the clock, certain issues play through the minds of law enforcement officials.
“They are constantly aware of what’s going on around them,” he said. “They have to always know what they will do in an active shooter situation, how they will keep citizens safe and how they will protect the children in their community. And they have to be ready to respond without worrying about – or even considering – their own safety. And their readied response – and training for such incidents – has drastically evolved over the years.
“Active shooter training has changed completely,” Bryant said. “We used to form a barrier and wait for backup and a negotiator, we would wait three or four hours for a SWAT team to come from Waco. But in today’s world, the first one at the scene is the first one in. It’s that officer’s job to go toward the danger and try to stop – to eliminate – the threat to the public.”