Protest organizer 'devastated' when he revisits where officers were slain

Protest organizer 'devastated' when he revisits where officers were slain

DALLAS -- The wounds from the downtown attack on Dallas police are still fresh.

Our hearts are still broken.

"I'm just so sorry,” says Rev. Jeff Hood. “I'm devastated."

Hood, an activist Baptist minister, was one of the organizers of the July 7 protest over police-involved shootings in other parts of the country. It ended with the deaths of four Dallas police officers and a DART police office officer.

Returning to Belo Garden three months later was not easy. He met us there to talk about the events of that night and how it’s changed all of us.

“For a lot of people who were down here that night, it’s a lot to bear and it’s a lot to figure out how to move forward with,” he said.

About 1,000 people had packed around into Belo Garden for the protest. They marched in the downtown area as police kept a close watch.

Hood was wearing his protest robe –- a robe he’s worn to dozens of other protests. He was carrying an eight-foot cross. He was walking with Sgt. Jeff Hall, who he was working with to keep the protest calm and peaceful.

It was around 9 p.m. as the protest was ending when the gunfire started. He says Hall jumped in front of him to protect him. Hood initially thought the shots were coming from above.

“I could hear pow, pow, pow, pow,” he said. “The noise was ricocheting off all these buildings.”

People ran for cover. It was total chaos. Officers ran toward the shots.

“Even though we were very close to what happened, we had no idea what happened, except that somebody was shooting a higher-powered weapon and was taking people's lives,” Hood said. “That was obvious.”

It was only later that he learned five cops had died.

Micah Johnson, the downtown gunman, would die in a standoff with police inside El Centro College. He was killed by a remote-controlled robot.

"When my mind thinks back to that night and I close my eyes and I hear the sirens and I hear the gunshots, it almost doesn't feel real,” Hood said. “It feels like there's a movie playing in my brain, and eventually, I'm brought back to the point where I know it was real.”

After the deadly attack, Hood received death threats. His wife and five small children left their home. Denton police kept an eye on his house for days.

“You know, a person of faith is not supposed to say they're scared, but I was certainly concerned,” Hood said. “I was concerned for my children, in fear that they were going to be playing in the front yard, in fear that someone who wanted me was going to take them.”

Hood has no doubt that police officers saved lives that night in downtown.

“It's not lost of me that the police were running to the shooter as we were trying to get people away from the shooter,” he said.

Hood has not participated or organized any protests since that night.

“I have a very difficult time being in crowds,” he said. “I have a lot of trauma from that night. I think that I will come to a point where I'm more comfortable, being back involved in protests and whatnot, but the reality is, nothing is ever going to be the same. The shots of that rifle, in a lot of ways, shattered the binaries for me, shattered the dichotomies for me. It’s not an us-versus-them. It’s how can we work together to make the world better.”

We asked if it was too soon to be having protests in downtown Dallas.

“I don't know the answer to that,” Hood said. “All I know is that, for me, it's too soon for me.”

On the surface, downtown has returned to normal. The crime scene tape was all taken down months ago. People are going on about their business.

“Every time I come down here, I remember that five people were shot and killed down here,” Hood said. “And so yeah, there's anger in that I wish that it didn’t happen. But I got to believe that the love of God is bigger than all of this… The love of God is bigger than this act that Micah Johnson committed.”

Hood, like all of us who are forever changed by the events of July 7, is taking it step by step trying to heal from that night.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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