Micah Xavier Johnson’s Life Mattered Too


Members of the Boston Police bomb squad demonstrate a robot named "Slick" during an active shooter drill at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed police officers guarding a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas last week, killing five officers and wounding eight more officers (plus two more bystanders).

Then he was apparently killed by one pound of C4 explosive carried to him by a police robot.

“We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the subject was,” Dallas Police Chief David Brown said at a news conference after the attack. “Other options would have exposed our officers to grave danger.”

This was apparently the first time domestic law enforcement used a robot to kill somebody, and in this era of debates over everything from drones to law enforcement’s use of military-style weapons and equipment, it’s drawing a lot of attention.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]What Johnson did was monstrous, full stop, but in America even monsters are to be afforded due process of law.[/mks_pullquote]

We still don’t have all the facts in on the circumstances of Johnson’s death, and that’s a shame. Based on the facts available to us now it’s a struggle to see how the killing was justified.

What Johnson did was monstrous, full stop, but in America even monsters are to be afforded due process of law.

If police used a bomb to kill or neutralize Johnson because he represented an imminent and on-going threat to the public, then fine. It’s exactly those situations that we allow law enforcement the use of deadly force.

But if they killed him because they were tired of waiting for him to give up? Worse, if they killed him to get revenge for the officers he had already killed or injured?

That’s unacceptable. Maybe even criminal.

What we need to understand is why police had “no other option,” as Chief Brown put it, but to blow up a man who was wounded and pinned down.

What was the harm in waiting him out? What was the risk in waiting until he gets too sleepy or succumbs to the injuries he’s already sustained?

These are the questions the Dallas Police Department needs to answer, and sooner rather than later. I realize that emotions are running high, and that we all feel a lot of sympathy for the Dallas law enforcement community right now, but we cannot have cops acting as judge, jury, and executioner in these situations.

The test of our commitment to liberty and justice isn’t when we uphold them in sympathetic cases. The test comes when we are put in a situation when we must uphold them in the least sympathetic cases.

I hope we get information to back up Chief Brown’s assertion that they had no choice but to use a robot-carried bomb to kill Johnson. I’m afraid we won’t, and that will further strain the already frayed relationships between law enforcement and the communities they patrol.