A southern Dallas neighborhood flooded the streets in outrage late yesterday, after a 31-year-old man was shot dead by a Dallas police officer during a chase from a suspected drug house.
Police say they believe the suspect-turned-victim, a veteran criminal named James "G-Code" Harper, was shot in the stomach and hand during a protracted physical fight with the officer, who, along with two others, had flushed Harper and three other suspects from the house after receiving a call about a possible kidnapping there.
But as the large crowd gathered on the street, and as police in riot gear swarmed in an effort to keep the peace, people on the street insisted that Harper had been shot in the back.
When I arrived at the corner of Dixon Street and Bourquin Avenue around 6:15 p.m., I found what had already become a very crowded scene: Dozens of police, some of them with riot shields and helmets or carrying large assault rifles, had cordoned off the intersection. On either end of Dixon, more police vehicles blocked cars from driving through the area. A crowd of what looked like several hundred people, including many women and children, were gathering in groups all up and down Dixon. (Other outlets reported fistfights in the crowd, and overhead footage from Fox 4 showed a chaotic scene, with people scattering this way and that. I didn't witness any violence during two hours at the scene.)
"Can you tell me what happened?" I called to a man walking away from the crowd.
He glared at me. "They killed my son," he shouted, and continued walking. A friend beside him put a hand on his shoulder.
Later, at a press conference at Dallas police headquarters, Chief David Brown said three officers originally went to the house in response to a 911 call. The caller said "five or six Latin males with guns" were dragging a black male into the house with his hands tied behind his back.
Brown said when DPD officers arrived, they knocked on the door and "heard people scurrying around trying to get out" and the sound of windows breaking. He said when police got into the house, they saw a handgun on a table and crack cocaine "all over" both the house and yard.
Police chased four men from the house. Officer Brian Rowden pursued Harper through an alley over three fences, Brown said. In the process, the two got into "three separate physical fights," Brown said. He said a neighbor saw the second fight from her back porch and called 911.
Rowden started "losing the fight," Brown said, and was being beaten by Harper. After the third fight, he said, Harper told Rowden, "You're gonna have to kill me."
"Fearing for his life," Brown told reporters, Rowden pulled out his gun and shot Harper.
No gun was recovered from Harper's body, only a "wad of cash" in his front pocket, Brown said.
Police now believe that the original 911 call was bogus. Brown said there's a "family feud happening in the neighborhood" between rival drug dealers, and that they think the call was made deliberately in order to bust up the competition.
Many of the people on the street after the shooting said they were friends and relatives of Harper's. Many, too, were furious about the number of police shootings in Dallas this year: there have been 13 others so far, eight of them fatal. (To counter-balance those numbers, Brown noted last night that assaults on officers are up from last year.)
"This is about the third time in four months that these officers have shot a man in the back," said Reverend James McMillon, who was standing in a knot of people near Dixon's Grocery. "There needs to be some kind of protocol for this."
Witnesses on the scene said Harper had recently gotten out of prison. Brown read out his arrest record at the press conference last night. It included a litany of charges, including manufacturing and selling a controlled substance, evading arrest and assault on an officer. (The Dallas County online system is currently down; we'll check his record for ourselves when it's back up.)
"He had 10 years of parole," said a woman in the crowd who gave her name only as "Ebony." She said she was a first cousin of Harper's. "So he can't carry weapons. We know for a fact he was unarmed." Several people in the crowd said the house was a "weed house," and didn't sell other drugs.
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"Police are always killing people, and it's always our people getting killed," said a woman who would only give her first name, Keisha. She's 40 years old and said she's lived near Dixon Street her whole life. "Every time you look around one of us is dead."
"They're saying we're throwing rocks and bottles out here," she added. "Ain't nobody causing no ruckus like that. We just out here a little heated."
"He was a good dude," said another man, Reginald Wheeler, who also said he knew Harper. "He just sold dope. That don't justify shooting a man in the back."
Brown said Officer Rowden will remain on paid leave pending an internal investigation. The shooting will then be referred to a grand jury. We've heard reports of a possible protest outside police headquarters later today.