My experience last night wasn’t all that traumatic compared to what you’ve already seen and read. My apartment was a (safe) five-minute drive from the scene. I followed along on Twitter and CNN, I reassured concerned family and friends, and by midnight about 80 percent of my Dallas friends were accounted for. I tried to tell myself to go to sleep, that more accurate information would be out in the morning. Then sirens would roar by, and I’d pick up my phone and refresh Twitter.
I fell asleep around 3:00 and woke up at 7:00. By then, the rest of the country felt sorry for the city I’ve lived in for two years. People are dead, and my connection to them feels primarily spatial, which comes with a strange obligatory addition to my grief. I’m not just supposed to feel empathy and pain. I’m supposed to feel loyalty.
I put on my Dallas Marathon t-shirt with the city’s skyline and diverse little stick figures running in unison, and I made the same 15-minute walk to Starbucks that I make everyday to write. We’re supposed to carry on in the aftermath of tragedy. This was mostly an empty gesture. I don’t think anyone in the snooty West Village Starbucks (rumor has it that JoJo from The Bachelorette lives across the street) found any additional courage from my shirt.
Of course, there are concrete ways to positively respond to this. You can donate to the victims and their families, and I strongly suggest you do. But how people, in Dallas and elsewhere, process last night, how much effort they put into processing it, will be a more complicated task.
Obviously, all of the slayings last night were equally tragic and the whole thing was disgustingly senseless, but the name that won’t get out of my head is Brent Thompson, a 43-year old DART officer, or Dallas Area Rapid Transit. I ride the DART rail (essentially just a metro or train) around Dallas fairly often, and I don’t think that Thompson signed up for that kind of danger. His tasks are supposed to include lecturing or kicking off idiots like me who might have forgotten to buy a ticket once or twice.
I don’t need to give you the obligatory statement that Dallas is a great city. There’s no bad city that deserves to have this happen to it. But public transportation is probably one of the best ways to get to know a city and its people. I’ve seen men and women like Brent Thompson doing their jobs. I’ve seen them joyfully interact with all sorts of citizens as if they consider them co-workers, including many people who might have been justifiably outraged by the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and who wouldn’t ever think to associate people like Thompson with the perpetrators of those deaths. Some will look at the two sides involved last night and tie two narratives together and suggest total causality, but that’s not how it works.
Those interactions on the DART, that are a bit closer to the heart of the growing conflict in America, don’t get their own hashtags. They don’t make it to Twitter. They get denied in aggressive narratives. The Black Lives Matter protests of police brutality were peaceful until disaster struck. Those men and women had every right to protest and they were being dutifully enabled to do so by the Dallas Police Department.
These were two groups that were working together because of a systemic problem in America. That should have been a powerful thing. It was something that Dallas might have been proud of. It was something indicative of two different perspectives understanding an issue.
Instead, it was made into something horrific by a couple terrorists acting on behalf of terrorism.
The most destructive bomb a terrorist can plant goes off in the ensuing weeks in our search for justice. The most effective terrorism divides us.
Processing extreme tragedy is supposed to be a reckoning that we all have to go through. We’re supposed to struggle with blame and solutions. #Dallas can mean a lot of things. It can be a voice of support or it can pit one group against another.
I live next to a bridge over a freeway that runs through Dallas. The other side of that bridge is one of the wealthiest, trendiest parts of the city. The rent on my side of the bridge is probably 35 percent cheaper. It’s not a dangerous place to live. The apartments and shopping are nicer on the other side, but sometimes I get the sense that the people on the other side are paying a premium to avoid some of the people on my side.
One day, I was walking home and crossing the bridge at the same time was a quirky, talkative African American man who worked for the city. We talked for the five minutes until I reached my apartment. At one point, he gave me props for having a conversation, mentioning, “Nobody over there will even speak to me” and pointing backwards. He was wearing the yellow vest that many city workers wear. He was short and slight, not remotely intimidating.
That bridge is about 100 feet long. We can’t afford to make it any longer, in Dallas or anywhere else.