Yesterday morning I had a conversation with a Mexican-American friend of mine. He was born, 40-some years ago, and raised in what I’ll call the backside of Dallas. We were talking about the gunman who took it upon himself to answer in kind for the many black men killed for little reason by law enforcement agents. I was depressed, because I felt that in so many ways that man’s actions might derail the powerful Black Lives Matter movement, which seemed to be gaining a lot of headway across the country.
My friend agreed, in principle, but he also said this. I will paraphrase as well as I can, because I think it’s important.
I understand, he told me, why he did it.
If you grow up, where I grew up, you learn early that you will probably die young. Somebody’s going to kill you. It could be the gang banger next door. It could be the cops. Either one. You see a cop coming, you don’t think you’re safe. You know you’re in danger. Because a wrong move can get you killed. Every day you hear about some other black or brown man, maybe even somebody you know, dying in a drive-by, dying in police custody. It’s all the same to you. They’re both gangs. Cops and Bloods, or whatever they call themselves. Gangs. Doesn’t matter. Either one can kill you dead.
So I understand, my friend said, how somebody finally cracks. Some guy thinks, enough is enough. I’m going to die anyway, one way or the other, and I might as well die fighting back. I got nothin’ to lose.
He’s (the shooter) not thinking, in that moment, about the larger picture. The effect on the movement. He’s just seeing once again the streets full of his brothers and sisters protesting something he knows in his heart will never change. So he does what they can’t do.
He shoots back.
My friend isn’t violent. He’s one of the most peaceable people I know. He escaped those streets himself with his soul intact. He doesn’t think the shooter was a hero.
He was just another broken guy who didn’t want to take it anymore. He was just a guy who decided that he didn’t want to die in the front seat of his own car because of a broken taillight. But it wasn’t suicide by cop. For the shooter, it was finally, justifiably, war.