When Jamie Thompson woke up on July 8, 2016, the city of Dallas and its brass were still trying to figure out what the hell happened the night before. There was a shooting, and five law enforcement officers were dead. The perpetrator had been killed by a robot-controlled bomb. And it all happened after a peaceful protest under the scorching summer sun. That much was certain; the rest was murky.
Thompson, on assignment for The Washington Post, hit the bricks and hammered out story after story. She talked to cops who had just lost friends. She talked to the Parkland trauma surgeon who tried to help the wounded. With each conversation and each stroke of the pen, she realized the story was even bigger than she realized.
“This one night contained a lot of lessons and perspectives,” she says via phone in late October. “There was more to do, more to write about.”
So Thompson turned it into a book. Standoff: Race, Policing, and a Deadly Assault That Gripped a Nation explores the city before, during and after the fateful events of July 7, 2016, when a gunman opened fire on police officers at a downtown protest. The book, which is Thompson’s debut, bears a strong resemblance to the pieces she’s crafted for the Post, Dallas Morning News, D Magazine and many other publications. The scenes are thrilling. The details are rich. Most of all, the story is moving. Luckily for fans of great writing, Standoff is just one of the many great books by Texas authors that will be included at this year’s virtual Texas Book Festival, which will take place between Oct. 31 and Nov. 15.
OK, OK: technically Thompson isn’t a Texas author. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband, a Post reporter, and their children. But she spent years living in and writing about Texas and holds a particular affinity for Dallas. That’s part of the reason she wrote this book.
“It’s a very stereotyped city,” she says. “Before you live in Dallas, you probably have a vision of what it is: cowboys, cheerleaders, blondes and Botox. But as you live here, you see the richness of the city.”
With that richness comes a dark side, she says.
“You can’t live in Dallas and not know there is a stark divide in race,” she says. “But the perception was that Dallas had been doing a lot of things right, so for [the shooting] to happen there was hard.”
One of Thompson’s goals with Standoff was to capture a “broad, nuanced look at race and policing,” an aspiration she knows is trickier than ever.
“I was a police reporter, and this image of cops as evildoers that are out to hurt people does not match my experience,” she says. “I think, by and large, most cops get into this field because they want to be helpers, they want to be do-gooders. Same with the protestors. It’s easy to stereotype them as rioters, but really, they are hardworking people that have issues they want to address.
"I’ve sat with protestors before and thought, ‘Wow, ‘these people would really get along with some of the cops I know.’”
Thompson set about writing a story that bucks stereotypes and delivers a nuanced, kaleidoscopic view of the shooting and the many people involved. Standoff’s cast includes a SWAT negotiator from a hardscrabble neighborhood, a police officer with a background in classical music and many other fascinating characters. Through dogged reporting, Thompson even dives into the home life and psyche of Micah Johnson, the shooter. In doing so, the author shows how Dallas never fully recovered from the event.
“I don’t know if it’s been fully dealt with in the city,” she says. “There’s still a lot of pain and brokenness, and I don’t know if we ever will get over it.”
Thompson is just one of the featured festival authors with Dallas ties. Here is a brief rundown of the other writers showcasing their work at this year’s Texas Book Festival:
Doug J. Swanson
The veteran Dallas Morning News writer’s new book inspired the removal of a controversial statue at Love Field. Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers explores the famed police agency's history of violence and racism.
José R. Ralat
Former Observer contributor Ralat is now the taco editor for Texas Monthly. His new book, American Tacos: A History and Guide, is undoubtedly a mouth-watering read.
Katherine Sharp Landdeck
This Denton author is a professor of history at Texas Woman’s University. Her new book, The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II has already received raves for its thrilling dive into a seldom-explored corner of military history.
Heaberlin, who lives in Grapevine, has won awards for her work in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Detroit News and the Dallas Morning News. She now writes best-selling thrillers, including the critically acclaimed 2015 release Black-Eyed Susans. Her new book, We Are All the Same in the Dark, promises to be as creepy as it sounds.
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