The world was in chaos.
I stood before a huge crowd. There were only seconds to go before it was time for me to speak. I stepped up to the bullhorn. I spoke as passionately as I ever have. Victims of police brutality filled our minds.
Feet constantly hit the pavement. Hundreds and hundreds of souls yearning for justice marched down the glowing streets of Dallas. Energy was high. I could feel it in my bones. Whispers of hope filled the air. The diners stood in reverence. Nobody was able to avert their eyes. Endurance mingled with the heat. Sweat dropped to the pavement. There was no stopping us. We wanted justice. God was there somewhere.
Old bricks pulled us forward. Centuries of injustice drew us together. The historic Dallas County Courthouse is a mound of red rock cascading to the sky. The back steps were a fitting place to remember — a place where on a day in the past, the screams for blood had grown louder and louder. After fighting their way into the courthouse, several thousand people dragged Allen Brooks out of his trial. Not long after, the mob lynched Brooks. Throughout the day, his body was on display. Postcards were created to commemorate the event. Though it happened in 1910, my brain felt like it was closer than I could have ever dreamed. The hanging. The dragging. The hating.
“Jeff!” I snapped out of it. I had to lead everyone back to where we started. Running up front, I took my position with the large cross that I’d carried most of the night. After a few moments, we started walking.
The chants had subsided. Everyone just seemed to be humming. Divine buzz surrounded us. The major and I chatted about how positive the night had been. Everything seemed to be fine. Though I was still in strong spirits, I was very tired. Any event of this size or magnitude really takes the wind out of the organizers. My brain seemed to be slowing down in anticipation of the end of the protest. Then, shots. Time stopped.
Ringing. Ringing. Ringing. I’d never heard a noise so consistent. In the distance, I saw multiple people drop to the ground. Shots. It took me another second to figure out what was going on. When I realized that someone was shooting, I stared into the distance. Shots. I picked up my cross and swung around. Echoes surrounded me. I didn’t know where the shots were coming from. I didn’t know who was going to be next. I just knew that there were hundreds of people behind me that were potential victims. Lowering my cross to a staff, I ran to get as many people out of there as I could. Parts of my brain are still on Commerce Street.
Cameras were everywhere. Everyone wanted to talk. From early in the morning until late at night, I did interviews in the scorching heat. Flashbacks of the night before kept running through my brain. Shots. Terror. Desperation. The images cycled around and around. It wasn’t like watching a movie. It hasn’t been since. The images are more like a kaleidoscope. The colors are slightly distorted and repeatedly cycling. My brain just won’t snap out of it. Throughout the day, I recalled everything I knew. Even when I didn’t want to remember, I forced my brain to work. It was important that the world knew that we held a nonviolent protest that was sabotaged. Though I had no problem telling the details of what I experienced, I still couldn’t figure out how it happened. I just wanted to talk about love and justice. How did these officers get killed? Though the world demanded more and more details, I needed to grab hold of my brain. I was tired. I was devastated. I was on. “Rev. Hood, what happened last night?”
Time sped up. The threats were endless. Life seemed to blur. Death lurked behind every door. The phone continued to ring incessantly with interview requests. My brain wasn’t working. Thoughts wouldn’t form. Talking seemed difficult. I started to receive police protection. Our five children under the age of 4 were not fooled. Consistently, our children demanded answers. I demanded answers of myself. I couldn’t figure out how these officers were dead. There was no amount of exercises or counseling that could get my brain thinking correctly. It didn’t matter. I had a sermon to preach. “We are called to give our bodies to the struggle against injustice.”
Weeks passed. Trauma grew. I still hear the gunshots. I still feel the terror. I still see the faces of the fallen. Slowly, I am relearning to think. It’s almost like I have to catch my thoughts and wrestle them to the ground. Even though it’s difficult, I haven’t stopped thinking. I know the world needs thinkers right now. Just last Sunday, I was reminded why I still work to think.
Before I could get out the door, my young son said, “Please, Daddy, don’t get shot in Dallas.”
The world is still in chaos.