A Brief History
On July 7, 2016, police in Dallas, Texas, made the first ever use of a robot to kill a murder suspect when a robot carrying a bomb blew up and killed gunman Micah Xavier Johnson who had shot 14 police officers (killing 5 of them) and 2 civilaians in an effort to kill White people in retaliation for the perceived unnecessary killing of Black males by American police. The police robot was a type used by bomb disposal units and carried a 1 pound block of C-4 explosive in its extended robotic arm. Despite the bomb exploding as designed and killing the suspect, the robot remained intact and functional except for damage to its arm.
Johnson was somewhat of a loser, a not uncommon characteristic found in mass shooters. He did poorly in high school, graduating with a 1.9 GPA and finishing 430 out of 453 students. Although he had signed up for classes at a Dallas community college (Richland College) he did not see any of them through to completion. His enrollment at Richland College gave him access to the El Centro College (also in Dallas) campus and buildings, in which he later showed some familiarity on the day of his mass shooting rampage. After High School Johnson joined the US Army Reserve and was activated and sent to Afghanistan in November of 2013, where he served until July of 2014. Johnson had problems while in the Army, being described as a loner and being accused of sexual harassment. When investigators found stolen female panties in his possession, Johnson was put under 24 hour watch which apparently angered and humiliated him. Live ordnance (including a 40mm grenade) was found in his possession as well. To make matters worse, the thief that Johnson was became even more apparent when stolen prescription sleeping pills belonging to another soldier was found in his possession. The Army tried to discharge Johnson with a General Discharge Under Other than Honorable Conditions, but with legal representation Johnson agreed to a discharge changed to be a General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions. With typical Army inefficiency, Johnson was accidentally discharged with an Honorable Discharge and allowed to remain in the Individual Ready Reserve. (Other soldiers have expressed dissatisfaction with the Army blundering Johnson’s case.)
Back in Texas, Johnson became involved with various Black oriented web sites, sites with anti-White messages and even advocating violence against White people. Soldiers that had served with Johnson later reported that while in the Army Johnson had never expressed interest in race-oriented causes or cases, even ignoring national topics such as the Trayvon Martin killing. Johnson’s parents said he went into active duty as a reasonably outgoing, patriotic person, but came back distrustful and resentful of the US Government, most likely due to his disciplinary problems while in the Army. Apparently the sexual harassment investigation resulted in other soldiers shunning Johnson, making his life unhappy.
Johnson was living with his mother and disabled adult brother, taking care of the mentally disabled man. An incident occurred when Johnson went into the Mesquite Police Department in 2011 visibly upset and seeking some sort of assistance. Johnson ended up refusing mental health referral and claimed he was no danger to himself or others. After the mass shooting in 2016, the Veterans Administration issued an opinion that Johnson had been suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time in Afghanistan, but the police station incident happened before that deployment. Clearly, Johnson had a somewhat longer history of instability. The VA report (un-redacted portions) included reports of Johnson hearing voices and explosions and suffering panic attacks.
While the national news concerning the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are cited as reasons for Johnson attacking police officers with murderous intent, he was found to have been planning the attack well before those incidents took place. In June of 2016 Johnson volunteered to serve as security at an anti-Donald Trump rally, but was turned down because he insisted on carrying a gun. Johnson was seen in 2014-2016 practicing shooting tactics in his back yard, and also attended classes for shooting. During the 2 years leading up to the shooting incident, Johnson acquired his guns and some components for making improvised explosives.
The situation in Dallas around El Centro College was tense on July 7, 2016, with masses of people protesting perceived police brutality toward Blacks. Large numbers of police were present to control the crowds, and among the protestors were 3 dozen or so “open carry” advocates that were carrying firearms, some of whom were dressed in body armor and gas masks. In this environment Johnson also wore body armor and carried a Russian AK pattern rifle, a Glock semi-automatic pistol, and a small .25 caliber pistol.
Johnson engaged some officers in conversation before opening fire, killing 3 officers in the initial barrage. Other cops and civilians were hit with gunfire, and while 11 police officers returned fire at Johnson, other officers were confused as to where the shots were coming from and took positions that left them vulnerable to direct fire from Johnson. Johnson killed another officer as he made his way toward the college buildings and was met with 2 campus officers when he tried to enter the building. Johnson, by now wounded himself, wounded the 2 college cops. A gunfight inside the college building between Johnson and the police ensued with over 200 shots being fired. A total of 5 police officers had been killed and 11 other officers (9) and civilians (2) injured. Johnson was trapped and would not surrender, prompting police to send in the bomb equipped bomb disposal robot to end the incident.
The bomb carrying robot was equipped with a television camera, and officers could see Johnson take the robot under fire but failing to stop the inexorable approach of the machine. The bomb went off as planned and Johnson died on the scene of blunt force trauma, the 6th life lost in the chaotic shoot out. Johnson had cryptically written the letters “RB” in his own blood on the wall where he was holed up, but investigators have not determined the meaning of those letters.
An investigation by the US Army a week after the Dallas shootings found the Honorable Discharge given to Johnson had been in error, but not why the error had been made. At least one Johnson friend reported that Johnson had “anger management issues.” The father of a slain police officer sued several Black nationalist organizations including Black Lives Matter, The Nation of Islam, The New Black Panther Party and others. Another wounded officer sued many Black organizations but his case was dismissed. That same officer then sued Twitter, Facebook and Google, alleging those sites allowed “terrorist propaganda” on their sites creating the racial hatred that led to the Dallas shootings.
This horrible incident once again brings into focus the highly emotional debates about the relationship of America’s police with African American citizens, mental health care and lack of care, and how our country goes about deciding exactly how to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. The issue of using a remote control robot to kill a suspect also deserves attention, since it is always possible for the radio link to the robot to be hijacked by nefarious means. Or for that matter, what if the radio signals are inadvertently overridden by unintended other transmissions that cause someone to be killed unnecessarily? Then there is the problem of the Russians, as we have recently found out, playing Americans against each other through trolling social media and the internet while whipping up racial discord on both sides. Finally, does the news media have any culpability in generating the hatred needed to trigger such incidents? False and slanted reporting to create sensationalism certainly may contribute to heightened racial tensions (à la the misleading editing of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin incident by ABC). Should racist hate groups advocating violence against any person or type of person on the internet or otherwise be held liable for people that actually take the bad advice and commit violence?
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For more information, please see…
Brandl, Steven. Police in America 1st Edition. SAGE Publications, 2017.
Spark, Joseph. Police Vs. The Public: Brutality Or Justice. CreateSpace, 2014.