By Manny Fernandez
New York Times
DALLAS >> The officer was standing in a hotel cafe here when he was asked — as he no doubt had been asked dozens of times since July 7 — how he was doing.
He shook his head.
“Second time in 13 months,” he said.
The officer was talking about what happened last year in Dallas. A disturbed man had a brazen shootout with the Dallas Police Department on June 13, 2015, driving an armored van to police headquarters, ramming a patrol car and opening fire on officers while poking his rifle through the van’s gun portholes. That is right: Fifty-five weeks before a lone gunman attacked police officers July 7 in downtown Dallas, another lone gunman attacked some of those same police officers last year at the edge of downtown Dallas.
Both gunmen used Soviet-style rifles. Both were mobile and created confusion about whether there were multiple gunmen. Both attacks ended in standoffs. Both gunmen were killed by the police. Both assaults spread panic in parts of the city, caused evacuations and brought a level of warlike violence to the center of the country’s ninth-largest city. One planted homemade explosive devices, but the other may have just threatened to plant them.
The first attack began one mile from the second. The first gunman, James Boulware, 35, was white. The second, Micah Johnson, 25, was black. Boulware, who blamed the police after he lost full custody of his son after his arrest in 2013, fired nearly 200 rounds but did not kill or injure any officers. Johnson, driven by his hatred of white officers, fired perhaps just as many rounds but killed five officers and wounded nine.
But there is more: Rewind the clock a few additional months from June 2015 to October 2014 during the Ebola crisis. Dallas was the site of the first three cases of Ebola confirmed in the United States. The Dallas police fought that war, too, helping to calm the first U.S. city to contend with a widespread Ebola public-health emergency. Officers stood guard outside apartments suspected of being contaminated, the very places many residents wanted to get far from. That line that is repeated often these days — that the police run toward danger as the public runs away from it — applies even when the danger is invisible.
It is not just the horror of July 7. Not many police forces have been through what the one in Dallas has been through in so brief a time. That officer in the cafe came under fire last year from Boulware, just as he came under fire July 7 from Johnson, and yet there he was the other day, in uniform and on the job. When people ask how Dallas can recover from the past catastrophic week, some of the answer lies in what officers have already been through.
“It’s kind of like diamonds,” said Detective Arturo Martinez, a friend of Officer Patrick Zamarripa, one of the five officers killed last week. “The more pressure you get, the stronger you get, the more beautiful you are. No matter how much pressure you put on us, we’re just going to get better.”
Martinez, 29, trained in the police academy in 2009 and 2010 with Zamarripa, 32, a Navy veteran who served in Iraq. Martinez said his friend “was always down to go chase the bad guy,” one of the type of officers their peers call “dope chasers.”
He added: “It’s proactive policing. They like to go out and seek the drug dealer. He was a protector.”
Martinez attended a lunch the day after the shooting at the Dallas offices of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization that was organized as a way for officers to get together, talk and decompress. He was out of uniform, in a crisp blue shirt and cowboy boots. It had been only a few hours since he left his friend’s bedside at the hospital. He had changed shirts. He had walked into the hospital room and stood over the body of his friend, angry, sad, in disbelief.
“I took my shirt off and I cleaned his face off,” Martinez said. “I didn’t like all the blood on his face. I didn’t want to see him like that.”
On Monday night, Martinez was part of the sea of blue at a candlelight vigil outside City Hall. Everyone’s hands were sticky by the end of the event from the dripping wax. Another officer, Officer Jorge Barrientos, walked up to the detective. They embraced.
Barrientos’ left hand was wrapped in a bandage. He is one of the wounded.
Barrientos was with Zamarripa and other officers who had been spread out across the intersection of Main and Lamar streets before the gunfire rang out. Barrientos, a four-year veteran of the department, chose his words carefully and slowly.
“I took a round to the hand, and I took some shrapnel to the chest,” he said.
He was about 10 feet from Zamarripa when shots rang out.
“We were taking fire,” Barrientos said. “I saw my buddies go down, and I did my best to try and save them and evacuate them from the scene so that they could have a chance of surviving.”
He put pressure on Zamarripa’s wounds. But he used only one hand, he said.
“I’m helping Zamarripa but at the same time, I have my gun out on the other hand, trying to help make sure that we can stop the threat,” he said.
In the chaos of the moment, Barrientos was a lot like his city.
Wounded. But fighting.