DALLAS (Reuters) - A black surgeon who saved the lives of some of the Dallas police officers shot in a racially motivated ambush last week said on Monday he supported law enforcement but also understood the anger driving recent protests across the United States.
“This killing, it has to stop. Black men dying, it has to stop,” Brian Williams, staff surgeon at Parkland Hospital, which received the five officers killed and nine wounded in Thursday night’s attack. “We have to come together and end all this.”
A former U.S. Army Reservist opened fire on police officers at the end of a march protesting last week’s killings of black men by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and outside St. Paul, Minnesota, in an attack that he told police negotiators was intended to kill “white people,” especially police. [L1N19X03O]
The attack injected a new note of fear into two years of largely peaceful protests across the United States over the high-profile police killings of black men in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, and Chicago.
“It’s much more complicated for me personally because it’s not just about that one night,” Williams told a news conference on Monday. “It’s about the racial undertones that affect all of this, so it began for me long before those cops came in the door that evening.”
Williams said he tended to pay for police officers’ meals when he saw them dining in Dallas-area restaurants, in part to show his children he respects law enforcement.
But he added that as a black man: “I also personally feel and understand that angst that comes when you cross the path of an officer in uniform and fear for your safety.”
The St. Paul killing occurred during a traffic stop allegedly over a broken headlight on the car of Philando Castile, 32. He was shot while reaching for his driver’s license after telling an officer he was legally carrying a firearm, according to his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. She broadcast the shooting’s bloody aftermath on the internet.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said last week the shooting appeared to have a racial component.
“Would this have happened if the driver and the passengers were white? I don’t think it would have,” Dayton told reporters on Thursday. “This kind of racism exists and it’s incumbent on all of us to vow and ensure that it doesn’t continue to happen.”
An attorney for Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot Castile, denied on Saturday that race was a factor in the shooting.
Captain Dan Birbeck of the Dallas City Hospital District Police praised Williams’ actions.
“When those three police officers came through the door, those initial ones, not for a second did he think about anything that was going on or did it compromise him caring for them,” Birbeck told the same news conference. “That to me was very reassuring.”
The response of doctors went beyond race, said a white colleague of Williams, Dr. Todd Minshall, the chief of surgical critical care at Parkland, best known as the hospital where President John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead on Nov. 22, 1963, after he was shot in a Dallas motorcade.
“We don’t care what color you are, what race you are, what creed you are,” Minshall said. “When you come here, we’ll treat you.”
Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney