When 21-year-old Lauren Hendricks planned on protesting against police brutality, the last thing she expected was to be right in the middle of a mass shooting.
The Hampton University journalism student was at a peaceful protest organized by the social justice group Next Generation Action Network in Dallas Tx. to protest the killing by police officers of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile when Micah Johnson allegedly killed five police officers and injured nine. Johnson was eventually killed by the police with a remote control robot bomb.
“It kind of showed the real evils of the world and just how hateful people can be. I think that’s just another reason to protest,” Hendricks told the AFRO. “I believe that you can still be against police brutality and still support the police.”
Hendricks was excited to stand up for what she believed in. She went with her friend and line sister Denise Jones, a fellow Hampton University student and member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. At first the two enjoyed the rally, marching through a sea of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘No Justice No Peace’ signs.
“We saw people of all races talking to officers, talking to each other, people of opposite races talking to each other, talking about how to fix the issues that were going on,” Hendricks said. “People were of course sad and angry about what happened, but nobody got violent.”
Chaos erupted when the crowd heard the first round of gunshots. Hendricks took shelter under the courthouse downtown, losing her shoe and her friend Jones in the process. A pastor tried to protect the group Hendricks was with by covering them with his body and giving them words of encouragement.
Most people would cower at the sound of gun shots, but as a journalism major, Hendricks saw this as the perfect opportunity to tell her story. As the commotion subsided, she quickly utilized Facebook live to share her experience with her friends and family. She also used other forms of media like Snapchat and Twitter to give viewers a live update as to what was going on.
Hendricks also captured photos and videos of other protesters experiencing the tragedy. Protestors, including Hendricks, were quarantined in an area before being allowed to return home. Many of the exits were blocked off so the crime scene could be investigated.
“Police started looking for an active shooter, so you couldn’t really get around. I wasn’t able to get back in my car because it was a ‘active crime scene,’” Hendricks said.
Luckily Hendricks and Jones were soon reunited, but still weren’t able to get to their car and return home. Suddenly they heard a chilling second round a gun shots, and the two retreated back to the courthouse together. Everyone around them was sobbing and searching for their lost loved ones. The duo sat near three distraught young siblings, each of which looked terrified.
“You could see the police walking around in riot gear searching for the gunman. That was a scary thing, to see these large guns,” Hendricks said.
Seeing the police work together with protestors changed Hendricks perspective about law enforcement. “I don’t think the police where there to protect the protestors. They were there for crowd control, but after that happened, the police were taking care of the protestors…even though they soon found out that they were the actual targets.”
“I could kind of see why people assume why all police are bad, that they don’t try to understand us or try to eliminate police brutality. But after being in this situation, I don’t think people see how much police officers go through and want to help us. I think it’s unfortunate that one too many situations have happened where African Americans have been killed and that’s all we find out about, but we don’t’ find out about the good part that police do.”
Although the experience was frightening, the tragedy further inspired her to continue to fight against police brutality and racial inequality. “I’ll still continue to go to protests. It was scary, but I’m glad that I was there to be a part of that, just to serve as inspiration to people in the future. That’s the reason that we need to continue to protest and continue to have dialogue, because people still don’t get it: that violence is not the answer.”