I attended the protests in downtown Dallas this weekend. While I was there to document and observe, I feel it is necessary to indicate that I support the right to protest, and believe the unjust and cruel execution of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police officers should be protested nationwide. After hearing so many conflicting stories of what is occurring during the protests, I needed to know more.
Upon entering downtown Dallas, I immediately took note of the astonishing number of police vehicles lining every corner. A few protesters were trickling down the street in small clusters; police watched back silently. At the moment, everything was calm. Within a few blocks, the view changed dramatically. Thousands of protesters rounded the corner, marching together while holding signs and chanting, demanding justice and equality. Still, the event remained peaceful.
I made my way to a rooftop to get my bearings and evaluate the situation; two helicopters gazed down from above. From this height, it was eerily silent, in comparison to being among the crowds. Occasionally, a rolling boom would erupt in the distance; these were flashbangs being deployed by police. The elevator was turned off in the building I was in, so I walked down the ramp to reach the street.
As I walked down the sidewalk, I was approached by a man wearing a yellow safety vest, clutching a camera. His eyes and face were red, his overall appearance was haggard. “Just so you know, they don’t give a **** if you’re a journalist,” he said. He glanced back at the two state troopers who stood guard nearby, and continued: “I’ve been tear gassed twice, and hit with rubber bullets.” He looked the part.
The day progressed, and I took in many sights. I saw a police officer allow protesters to surround him entirely in a tight circle, as he spoke to them with compassion and respect. The protesters treated him likewise, though the debate was heated. A few steps away, I heard loud conversations about looting as soon as the sun went down. These two groups didn’t seem to mingle with each other. The boom of stun grenades, also known as blashbangs, and a “pop-pop-pop” rang out from time to time. I wondered why, because everywhere I went things seemed to be peaceful at the time. In the background, the S.W.A.T team and police showed up in endless droves, clutching riot shields.
When night fell, everything changed. The sunset was still on the horizon when a tobacco store was smashed with rocks, breaking the glass out of its barred windows and doors. Inside, three people held onto the remnants of the door, trying to keep out the growing group of people that were working to force the door open. Several of the would-be looters didn’t bother to conceal their identity.
Just when it seemed like the store would surely be overrun, a girl stepped in, screaming at them “What are you doing? That’s a black-owned business!” The looters backed off momentarily, and a male protester stepped in front of the doors to guard the shop. It worked, but for how long?
I joined a crowd that began chanting in unison; a thousand or more strong, they cried out together: “I can’t breathe!,” “Say his name!” and other phrases rang through the city. I felt like this was the strongest moment of the night, with the attention firmly focused on the unjust death of George Floyd, the demand for Black equality in America, and a call to end police brutality. The crowd was working as a unit; peaceful, but by uniting together they were truly a force to be reckoned with, making their voice heard by all.
Unfortunately, this didn’t last. Our crowd was split in half by flashbangs at an intersection, followed by sirens and the familiar “pop-pop-pop” that I now knew were “rubber bullets” being shot by the police. I still didn’t understand why things had suddenly escalated, from what I could tell the crowd was being peaceful.
I could hear the same noises all over the city. And then, chaos broke out. Protestors regrouped in the street; a flashbang popped directly in front of us. People fled to a nearby garage, where a girl received hurried medical treatment for her hand which appeared to be burned. Windows started being shattered, stores looted. One successful looter began trying to peddle the items he stole immediately upon exiting the building “$5 a box” he cried out, holding various tobacco products. As I took photos, an angry looter saw me and threw my camera down, attempting to stomp it to pieces. I pushed him away before he succeeded, and the crowd split us from each other.
A trashcan was lit on fire. Rocks began being thrown. Small groups of residents and bystanders lined the roofs of nearby buildings, some yelling insults and arguing with the looters and protestors. The chants mostly died out, and the ones that lingered were aimed at the police. Tear gas began wafting through the air. At one point, things seemed to have calmed down, when suddenly sirens rang out, and the sound of “rubber bullets” sent people ducking for cover, including myself. The image of everyone hitting the floor, face down, seemed surreal. Once the police car rounded the corner, someone sprung up, grabbed a rock, and smashed the window of the skyscraper we were sheltering below. Another round of shots came in from the police less than a minute later, followed by yet another round.
From there it only continued to grow more violent. Organization was non-existent, protesters tried to march forward only to be met by tear gas and flashbangs. Simultaneously, looters and others wishing to cause chaos and damage did so. Graffiti was sprayed on every surface, especially valuable ones. A masked man hopped onto the windshield of a seemingly random box truck, and jumped until it broke. People kicked the vehicle and spray painted on it. The peaceful protest had all but completely dissolved. Signs were no longer held high, chants quiet. Chaos consumed the streets.
Upon returning to the parking garage I had parked in, I leaned over from the 11th story to take one last photo; I was greeted with a green laser on my body, coming from a weapon pointed at me by police below. I quickly went the opposite direction.
By the time I returned home, I was still unable to have a fully informed opinion on the events that occurred that night. The outrage with the actions, and lack of action, by the officers who are responsible for George Floyd’s death is justified without doubt. I strongly believe there is a need to protest, a need for change, and an expectation for our government to be accountable, to listen to the people which it serves.
Most protesters were there to pursue these things. Some were certainly there only to partake in violence, looting, and pursue anarchy. Some police were behaving admirably, empathizing with protestors, and allowing peaceful protest to continue. Other times, it seemed as though they were attempting to break the morale of groups that got too large by deploying gas, flashbangs, and rubber bullets on crowds, despite the fact the groups had not escalated to violence or disobeyed orders.
“A few bad apples spoil the bunch” goes the old saying. But we are not apples. We are humans, in a very dynamic, and important moment of history. Let’s make the right changes.
The easiest way to stop the protests from turning to riots is to give protestors what they are there for: Justice for George Floyd, true equality for Black Americans, and an end to police brutality. To this reporter, it is the morally correct thing to do, and the only “right” answer.