I attended a prayer service at the Basilica on Sunday afternoon. The service was for “justice and peace” in response to the violence of the past week. I needed to go and get my head out of the online noise.
There were about 50 people there. Father Bauer led a wonderful service that was filled with songs and prayers. (I wish I could tell you the specific types of prayers that were said and sung, but I only know so much about the liturgy.) Near the end of the service, the victims of the violence were named out loud. They included Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, the Dallas police officers, and Jamar Clark. One particular name stuck out to me: Micah Xavier Johnson.
Johnson was the shooter in the Dallas attacks. As of this writing, he was the only known shooter in the attacks. His attacking style was professional, brutal, and honed. He was eventaully killed by the Dallas Police via a bomb delivered by a robot. (Which raises its own questions.)
If there was one common enemy among all actors in the story, it was Johnson. He was a cop killer. He was not affiliated with Black Lives Matter. He was the face of someone all groups and leaders could shun. As they should have.
I don’t condone Johnson’s actions. I can’t even imagine how he came to think that killing cops was the right thing to do. I can only begin to imagine the types of mental problems he had.
Yet, his name was still said in a church on Sunday afternoon. Why?
The thing I find most comforting about the Catholic church is the idea of forgiveness and the dignity of every human life. While what Johnson did was awful and evil, he was still a person. He had a family.
I googled Johnson’s name and was appalled by the reporting. Some told decent backstories of who he was, but it was still sensationalized. He was a cop killer. That’s not an inaccurate headline, but he was something else before he picked up his sniper rifle last week.
The thing that bothers me most about these events is that we have narratives formed in our heads minutes after an event takes place. It’s near impossible for us to change our minds from our initial reaction. I’m not saying anybody should look at Johnson as a victim, but I think his past is more complex than the narratives that are out there. (I wonder how his time in Afghanistan affected his mental health.)
I realize it’s easy for me to write these things as a white male who is not a cop and who lives over a thousand miles away from Dallas.
I still don’t feel much for Johnson. He committed some of the most terrible violence in the history of our country at the end of a terribly violent week. I can’t put him on a pedestal as some victim of the system.
I’m not condoning what Johnson did, but that name, said in my church on a Sunday afternoon, still echos in my ears.