Ex-police chief David Brown recalls shootings of Dallas police officers following Black Live Matters event in his new book ‘Called To Rise’
He was credited with bringing peace after the ambush last July 7
DALLAS — The events of July 7, 2016, will forever haunt former Dallas Police Chief David Brown.
That was the day Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed and killed four policemen with the Dallas Police Department (DPD) and one policeman with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system after a peaceful Black Lives Matter (BLM) event in downtown Dallas. Brown was in his sixth year as Dallas’ police chief at the time, and the tragedy unsettled not only his city but also a nation.
Several incidents across the nation where white police officers killed unarmed African-American citizens were the impetus for the BLM protest. But no one could predict what was about to occur in Dallas.
“It was very peaceful. People were taking selfies with our officers,” Brown said, referring to the protest. “We had worked very hard in the community to have strong relationships here in Dallas.
“We were all obviously concerned, but the mood of the crowd was so positive. And then towards the end is when the first shots rang out.”
Those shots, from Johnson, sent the crowd running for cover.
“I get a call after leaving work at 9 p.m. — the protest was scheduled to end at 9 p.m. — and people were leaving,” Brown said. “Then they decided to march through the streets, which was unplanned.
“I get the call that one officer is down, then I get multiple calls of multiple people shot and a gunman, maybe multiple gunmen, shooting from different positions. The first reaction was obviously the concern for the officers that they would make it, and their families, and then next was trying to capture this guy, trying to figure out where this person was.”
Johnson managed to run and hide in a small room on the second floor of nearby El Centro College. And after almost four hours of ill-fated negotiations while trying to get Johnson to turn himself in, Brown made the controversial decision to send an armed robot into the building with the sole purpose of killing the gunman.
The strategy worked, although many criticized Brown for using the rare tactic.
“It’s only controversial to people that weren’t getting shot at,” Brown said. “It’s not controversial to the people who lost their husband, lost their son or lost their father. It’s not controversial to those folks.
“But I understand people obviously concerned with weaponizing an armed robot, because it had never been done in American policing history. But this person was negotiated with for over 3 1/2 hours before we came to that conclusion, and during the negotiations he expressed that he wanted to kill more officers and expressed throughout negotiations that he was really excited about having already killed officers.”
Besides the five police officers killed, nine more were wounded, and two civilians were also injured.
Approaching the one-year anniversary of one of Dallas’ darkest hours, Brown believes that most police officers are good, honest men and women who are trying to do their jobs and go home safely to their families at the end of the day.
“I’m obviously African-American, I hate being stereotyped, I hate the fact that a black person can do something in this country and all blacks are stereotyped as being criminals,” Brown said. “But all of my adult life I’ve been a police officer, so I’m blue, and that stereotyping for police officers is just as bad as stereotyping in the African-American community.
“Just the fact that you will take the example of a cop that obviously didn’t do things the right way, used excessive force, used deadly force when it wasn’t called for, and then every cop is bad or out of control or racist is wrong. Just as wrong as someone following me in a department store because I’m black, thinking I’m going to steal something. That’s wrong.
“We ought to be able to have people be looked at on their own merits on an individual basis, is what we all want. People in the black community want that and people in the blue community want that, and it’s only right and fair.”
Brown, who spent 33 years with DPD before retiring last fall, has since written a book about his life named Called To Rise. It includes personal stories, including Father’s Day of 2010 when his son, who suffered from a bipolar disorder, shot and killed a police officer in a suburb of Dallas and was subsequently shot and killed by a responding police officer.
Born and raised in a tough area of Dallas called South Oak Cliff, Brown believes he was born to handle a crisis like the one that nearly brought Dallas to its knees last year. His candor, plus the way he calmed the fears of those in his community and across the nation, during interviews in the aftermath of the shootings was well-received nationally.
Brown points to his strong Christian faith, along with the community he grew up in, for helping him get through the biggest challenge of his career in law enforcement.
“It’s a strong-willed mother, a community that nurtured me, the public school system nurtured me, early childhood education — pre-K — had a big part of my life, and I just never forgot where I came from, and I felt like I owed people,” Brown said. “But the most important part is my faith. The fact that I’m a Christian and I’m not ashamed to profess it has an integral part in how I make decisions, good or bad.
“I’m nowhere near perfect at all, I know that. But I believe in God’s grace and I apply that as much as I can in all aspects of my life, including professional.”
All of that was put to a stern test last year.