Why the Dallas protest massacre is a wake-up call for American cops

The gunman was ultimately killed by a robot armed with an explosive, so no charges will ever be brought, but this was clearly a hate crime of the worst possible order


In what was the deadliest day for American law enforcement since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, five police officers were fatally shot and seven others wounded in Dallas last night. The gunman — a 25-year-old Army veteran named Micah Johnson — opened fire in a ruthless ambush attack the likes of which we have not seen since Lakewood, Wash. 

While pinned down in a parking garage and in communication with police negotiators during a standoff that lasted several hours, Johnson said that he was upset with white people and wanted to kill white people — especially white police officers. His brazen and brutal attack has sent shock waves across the law enforcement community. 

The gunman was ultimately killed by an EOD robot armed with an explosive device, so no charges will ever be brought, but this was clearly a hate crime of the worst possible order. And unfortunately, it is one which can too easily be repeated by like-minded assailants.

People take part in a prayer vigil at Thanksgiving Square, Friday, July 8, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Image)
People take part in a prayer vigil at Thanksgiving Square, Friday, July 8, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Image)

Training, Vigilance, and Cohesion
There is really no tactical solution to prevent what happened in Dallas last night, other than to redouble efforts to remain vigilant at all times. The atrocity demonstrates how easy it is for a sufficiently motivated gunman to kill law enforcement officers in a sudden ambush. Christopher Dorner did the same, as did Maurice Clemmons before him. And there has been an awful increase in the frequency of ambush attacks on police officers in recent years. 

No department is immune from this threat. What happened in Dallas last night can happen anywhere, any time, to any number of law enforcement officers. 

This is the principal lesson from yesterday’s awful events. Here are some other tactical and training thoughts to consider:

1. During a public protest at which law enforcement officers are lined up in formation deploy a counter-sniper (or more than one) set up in an overwatch.

2. During meal breaks or other instances in which a number of officers are grouped together in tight quarters, at least one officer should “watch six” while the others eat and rest.

3. During routine patrol — especially when in a solo-officer squad — continually do your “when/then” thinking, and try to anticipate a sudden ambush attack. 

Murdered While Protecting Constitutional Rights
Law enforcement officers are sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Part of that oath involves the protection of free speech — the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is a sacred thing. Consider the text:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

American cops dutifully protect that right on a daily basis. Last night, police officers in Dallas were doing precisely that when the gunfire rang out. Those five officers were killed and seven were wounded as they stood by to ensure that anti-police protesters had their voices heard — to have their First Amendment rights upheld. 

But incitement to violence is not protected speech under the First Amendment. Just as one may not shout “fire!” in a crowded movie theater, anti-police rhetoric on social media and in some of the protests we’ve seen in the past two years — “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” — is dangerous. 

It is good that the President spoke out in support of the Dallas police department. “Today is a wrenching reminder of the sacrifices that they make for us,” Obama said.

It would be great to see more leaders — regardless of political affiliation — make statements in support of law enforcement to counteract the irresponsible statements of a few who promote violence against cops. 

It would also be great to see private enterprises like Facebook and Twitter do a better job of removing messages of hate and violence that are in contradiction with their terms of service. This, of course, is out of police control. But we can still hope that this event will change some behaviors among those who threaten the lives of our officers through dangerous hate speech.

Conclusion
People across the country who were watching “The Kelly File” on FOX News — as I was — on Thursday evening saw the incident unfold live, as a split-screen showed protests in New York City and Dallas. Suddenly, chaos broke out Dallas and a camera person began running into a dispersing crowd. The horror of the scene was awful — the emotion of the night truly harkened back to the anger and sadness we all felt on 9/11.  

Our emotions will remain raw for a long time — we are all grieving and hurting — but police officers across the country will continue to do their jobs with honor and valor and a steady, unemotional hand. That’s what cops do. Police officers are among the most noble individuals this nation has to offer. Your service to our country and to your communities is appreciated by the vast majority of the American people. Please remember this, even in these darkest of days.

All of us at PoliceOne are sending our thoughts and prayers to you as you go out on patrol today, tomorrow and into the days and weeks ahead. 

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