If police and media reports are to be believed, Micah Xavier Johnson is a killer.
Not only is he a killer, but he is the archnemesis of all that is good in the world because he planned an intricate plot to murder Dallas police officers in retaliation for the white supremacist police state's systemic slaughter of black and brown bodies. The most recent, high-profile examples of this are the killings of Alton Sterling, 37, in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile, 32, in Falcon Heights, Minn., which have sparked protests all over the country.
But what do we really know about Johnson? Nothing. We know nothing other than the narrative the Dallas Police Department, in concert with the FBI, has fed us.
The scant details:
- He was an Army veteran who served a tour in Afghanistan.
- He was honorably discharged, even with a sexual assault allegation against him.
- The alleged victim in the sexual assault case was allegedly more concerned about his mental health** than his receiving punishment.
- He allegedly had little contact with family but lived with his mother.
- There allegedly was evidence that he was making bombs in his home, which, allegedly, matches statements he is said to have made about having placed bombs all over Dallas.
- Oh, and, of course, just before a police robot attached with a C4-detonation device was used to blow him up, he allegedly wrote a mysterious note in his own blood—“R B”—and managed to inform police that he hated white people, particularly white police officers.
So, for a second, let's suspend disbelief and entertain the possibility that a 25-year-old reclusive Army veteran, who is also a dashiki-wearing black power activist, is the lone sniper responsible for the deaths of more law-enforcement officers since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States.
I have no doubt that a black man living at the intersections of racism and American militarism, having to contend with pledging not only allegiance but also his life to a country that has a target on his back and those who look like him, could experience trauma. There have been several studies that link systemic and institutionalized racism with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. How it must feel for black veterans to risk their lives for a country that hates them for their freedom—while sending them to take the freedoms (and lives) of others on its behalf.
This is speculation, of course. I won’t presume to know Johnson’s mental state—and he was incinerated by a police bomb without benefit of a trial, so we will never know. Dead men tell no tales. Still, before we throw this alleged sniper out with the trash, let's consider a few questions:
1. Why Didn’t Police Buy Him a Hamburger?
After Dylann Roof, an open white supremacist who plotted to intensify an American race war, was welcomed into Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., with open arms, he prayed with parishioners before, authorities charge, he opened fire on them, killing nine. He was eventually captured, and police officers promptly gave him a bulletproof vest—you know, in case any big, scary black people wanted revenge—and bought him food from Burger King because he was hungry.
Johnson, however, didn't "have it his way"; instead, he was blown up with the violent use of remote force.
2. A Robot Bomb, Though?
"We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was," Dallas Police Chief David Brown said during a news conference. "Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger. The suspect is deceased as a result of detonating the bomb."
This is the first time that the use of robots in such a way by law enforcement has been made public. There is no evidence, no proof of his statements. There will be no trial. The murky legalities of this, not to mention the potential civil liberties violations, may or may not play a larger role in future conversations, adding another level of debate surrounding the overmilitarization of police in the U.S.
3. Where Did the "Triangulating" Snipers Go?
First, authorities said there was a squad of snipers "triangulating" around the police and there were several suspects in custody. The bullets were coming from everywhere, they said; there was no escaping them. Now, the suspects, including the mysterious "light-skinned African-American woman," have all vanished, and we are to believe that Micah Johnson, injured enough to scrawl a secret message in his own blood, coordinated and carried out a vicious, racially motivated attack against the Dallas Police Department all on his own.
4. Where Were the Police Cameras?
Police cameras are supposed to be the hot ticket in the streets, though I've always considered them a placebo for justice. They are supposed to monitor the police and provide a true record of events if a situation turns violent and/or fatal. But for some convenient reason, they never seem to be on and functioning properly when it's time to protect black people from being killed in the first place.
In the case of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, for instance, the body cameras of both of the officers who killed him fell off.
They. Fell. Off.
And I'm saying “killed” here, not “allegedly killed,” because we actually saw them do it; just like we saw Daniel Pantaleo use a banned choke hold on Eric Garner. Just like we saw Timothy Loehmann gun down 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a park in under two seconds. Just like we saw Michael Slager gun down Walter Scott.
In the case of Micah Johnson, we have a possible terrorist inside a parking garage, a robot bomb on standby, law enforcement from pillar to post, and no one has a camera—not one? All we have is the police narrative, which should be fine, right?
Because we all know police never lie.
5. Where Are His People?
Though Johnson's parents eventually spoke out, no one else seems to know much about him. His parents speak about Johnson's disillusionment with the U.S. government and with the military, but they say he was a "good son." Apparently Johnson was "reclusive," so there are no friends, siblings, play cousins, partners, teachers, Army buddies or co-workers who can say anything about him. There are no exes to tell us how complicated it all was. There was the one alleged post from an alleged sister on Facebook that has vanished into the ether. There are the images pulled from Facebook, and there is the official police narrative.
That's it. That's all we have.
These questions may seem to veer into conspiracy-theory territory, but black people in America have been gaslighted for so long that we rightfully require more than the word of police officers to believe any story, especially one full of holes and used to silence a movement, vilify a cause and destroy black people's determination to be free of an oppressive, carceral state.
Does this mean that Johnson was innocent? Absolutely not. It does mean, however, that we don't know that he was guilty. It does mean that, as Toni Morrison taught us, "The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being."
The narrative created around Micah Johnson—whether it is fact or fiction, or somewhere in between—isn’t one of black pathology but of American pathology. Black people should not feel the need to apologize by proxy for the deaths of police officers, especially when fighting for the lives of black people who have fallen victim to state violence is deemed “hate.” The reality we face is too urgent, the consequences too dire, to chase phantoms not of our own making.
And that's the one answer that we know for sure.
** There are dangerous stigmas attached to people living with mental illness, which have potentially adverse affects on their ability to thrive and safely navigate society—an assumption of their violence being one of them. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Only 3 percent to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population."
If you or someone you know needs help, click here to contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness for resources.