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'It Was A Good Rally': Dallas Activist Describes Scene Before Shootings

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Twelve police officers were shot, and at least five are dead after snipers opened fire on a demonstration against police brutality in Dallas. Two civilians were also injured. We have with us now John Fullinwider. He's a co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality in Dallas. It was one of the groups that was at the demonstration. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

JOHN FULLINWIDER: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: If we could back up - and could you just establish for us what the mood was like before the demonstration started?

FULLINWIDER: The rally was very peaceful. I mean, it was a good rally. We probably had about a thousand people there. Several different groups that work on police brutality were there. And there were a lot of new people there, people who told me, this is the first time I've come to a rally. And for instance, the family of a kid named Jose Cruz, who was killed by a Carrollton police officer this year was there. And they - they hadn't done much protesting before.

And so it was - it was a good rally. The mood was righteous anger and a determination to change the use of police deadly force. We were there to support the families of Alton Sterling, you know, and Philando Castile and of course...

MARTIN: These are the men who were killed, respectively, in Minnesota and in Louisiana this past week.

FULLINWIDER: Right. I think those - because of the videotape and because it happened in rapid succession, I think that those two deaths really galvanized people. And people wanted to do something. And that explains why this was a larger demonstration for Dallas.

MARTIN: I understand that you left the area before the shooting began. What - what did you see while you were in the parade? Were there any signs that things were turning?

FULLINWIDER: No. It was - it was - the sniper attacks started at the very end of the march. And my wife and I had left the area just a few minutes, I guess, before the snipers - before the shooting started. The march was - we picked up a lot of people on the way. When we started the march, my wife and I were marching at the end of the group. But as we got toward the end of it, we couldn't see the front of the line or the back of the line. So we had picked up a lot of people on the way. In fact, on the way - you don't always get a friendly reception when you're marching against police brutality in Dallas. But last night, we did. We picked up a lot of people. There was a lot of support, people waving and raising their fist or the peace sign as we walked by.

So it was - it was a good rally. And the police officers that were there with us - most of them, you know, they cover these rallies a lot. And they were - it was a pretty routine thing in one way. But I will say because of the size of the crowd, they had much more force out. There were drones in the area. There was a lot of helicopters. And so we had - it was a greater show of force than we're used to at one of our rallies.

MARTIN: We should note that the suspect who was killed - police chief from Dallas has - has made sure to note that he was not part of any group, that he was acting alone. You're a long-time activist in the Dallas area. How do you move forward after this?

FULLINWIDER: Well, I think it's important to stress that our movement, you know, we're against violence, whether it's official state violence, like police deadly force or whether it's the sniper attack that happened last night on the police or whether it's just the pervasive, you know, gun violence that's literally killing this country. But we - the way forward here should be to focus on the issues. Trying to reform a police department, it does not mean hatred of the police.

Now, today, of course, in Dallas is a day for mourning, generally. The city's pretty shattered by this. But we have to remember that the struggle for justice is an ongoing struggle. It started long before us, and it goes on after us. And we all got to contribute to it.

MARTIN: John Fullinwider, a co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality in Dallas. Thank you so much.

FULLINWIDER: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.