Starkville reacts to Dallas tragedy

Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

Members of Starkville's law enforcement, social justice, political and academic communities came together to denounce the violence after the events Thursday night in Dallas in which five police officers were killed and seven were wounded.

"The community's support means everything to us," Oktibbeha County Sheriff Steve Gladney said. "It's encouraging to know you've got people out there that support us. It makes us feel good. We certainly appreciate all the support we've received. It's a sad day for law enforcement."

Micah Johnson, a black Army veteran upset about the recent fatal police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, sought to kill "white officers" in an ambush attack during a peaceful protest through downtown Dallas, authorities said. The peaceful march was was a reaction to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of white police officers.

Johnson was killed after authorities detonated a mobile, bomb-carrying robot in the the parking garage he took refuge in. Security researchers believe this to be the first lethal use of a robot by U.S. law enforcement. Authorities confirmed Johnson "acted alone" at a Dallas press conference Friday.

Two civilians were also wounded in the shootings, according to Dallas police. The incident marks the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

"Our hearts go out to the people of Dallas," Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the men and women deceased and wounded in the tragedy."

Local deputies receive firearms training, while going through the active shooter protocol. The officers in Dallas could not have been ready for Johnson's sniper attack despite their training, Gladney speculated.

"Those officers didn't have a chance," Gladney said. "They probably didn't know where the shots were coming from at first, you can't prepare for that. If someone sets up an ambush on you, you're in trouble. There isn't a whole lot you can do."

Oktibbeha County NAACP Chapter President Chris Taylor wondered when the county would reach its breaking point over the mass shootings and deaths of blacks by U.S. law enforcement agencies. He stressed the importance of fostering unity and understanding in the fight against divisiveness.

"Our line in the sand should have been drawn long ago," Taylor said. "It has to end now. However, we cannot afford to think and act as individuals as we address the problems of the United States. We must unite to build or rebuild broken relationships and systems."

The Black Lives Matter movement is a peaceful, nonviolent protest movement meant to highlight injustices against black men and women in America, not a racist campaign against law enforcement, he said. 

"Yes, all lives matter," Taylor said. "White lives, Asian lives, Hispanic lives, rich lives, poor lives and police lives. The only problem with saying that is that for the most part, it seems so obvious and unquestionable. But that’s really the whole point of the Black Lives Matter movement. All lives matter but, black lives all too often seem to be left out of the all lives matter group."

Mississippi State University hosted a community circle forum on Friday to give members of the MSU community "a space to process their thoughts and feelings," following the tragic events, according to an MSU news release. A diverse group of students, faculty and staff attended the event held in the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center office in the Colvard Student Union.

"I think what's most beneficial about this is being able to see that faculty and staff at MSU care enough to have these conversations, and show students that they are here and have their best interests at heart," MSU secondary education major Mydarian Booker said in the news release.

In an interview with the Starkville Daily News on Friday, MSU senior and BLM activist Justin Brickler hoped the public and media would differentiate between the senseless acts of violence against police and the BLM protests.

"The BLM peaceful protest [in Dallas] showed how the movement really is," Brickler said. "[It's about] walking the streets late at night demanding change. Protesters [in Dallas] were seen on Twitter taking pictures with Dallas police, so to say that they just want to kill cops is [wrong."]

For more, see the July 10 edition.