Sidney Johnson planned to take a few photos and get quotes from organizers at Thursday’s protest in Dallas.
That’s what the intern for Central Track, a Dallas-focused online publication, did until he heard gunshots — a sound he said he was familiar with growing up in east Dallas.
“I didn’t grow up in the best side of town,” he said.
Johnson, 28, said his editor prepared him for the worst before giving him the assignment, but neither thought he would be witness to a mass shooting.
It was Johnson's third assignment. He has been an intern at Central Track for about a month.
“We definitely talked about the possibility (of violence) given the backlash,” Johnson said. “We didn’t expect it, but we talked about it.”
Before 9 p.m. CT what was a peaceful protest turned into a chaotic scene. People started running in all different directions.
Instead of running away, Johnson said he ran toward the gunfire. Then he ducked for cover inside a parking garage.
“As journalists, we are here to tell the story,” he said. "We can’t be scared about it. I felt safe enough to record.”
He turned on his camera and captured what he could. Other people in the garage told him someone was shooting cops.
What he saw next he won't forget: An officer down and another trying to help the wounded man.
"The cop on the ground, that is what really solidified it," he said. "This isn’t a movie. This is real life."
He saw people crying, hugging and struggling to understand what was happening. An officer soon escorted him out of the garage to safety. His editor, Pete Freedman, picked him up.
Now, after writing a first-person account of his experience on Central Track and getting a few hours of sleep, he's trying to process it all.
"I'm thankful that I wasn't hurt," he said.
Most of all, he said he won't lose sight of what he saw before the shooting: respect between officers and many of the protesters there.
"This shooting completely washed over what would have been the protest to model."
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