Dallas protesters describe march as peaceful throughout most of the event before the shooting started
There was an increased police presence, according to one source
It was a march for justice, but also one for peace.
The streets of Dallas were lined with hundreds of people Thursday night. Some chanted “black lives matter” as they moved through the downtown area, while others showed peace signs to offer their support and others held up their fists.
John Fullinwider, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, spoke at the rally. He was there with his wife. In many ways, the Dallas march was a family affair. Protesters were young and old and some even brought their children early that evening in reaction to the recent police shootings that claimed the lives of two African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota.
There were about a thousand people at the event, a size that normally doesn’t materialize in Dallas for protests against police brutality, Fullinwider explained.
For some, their first protest
“To have 1,000 people show up was pretty good. A lot of people came up to me saying that this was their first protest,” he said.
At the same time, there was also increased police presence. It was larger than usual, Fullinwider said. But protesters and police were friendly throughout the event. Some marchers even posed for selfies with officers.
“The cops that normally cover the rallies, we know who they are. They are pretty friendly,” he said.
“There were drones, police helicopters and many more officers than normally cover a rally. It was a bigger deal but it was a unified rally, very diverse. I have worked on the issue for a long time, for decades, and I felt really good about it. Seeing a crowd that was really mixed, all ages and multi-ethnic – it was a great thing.”
Fullinwider and his wife left the march minutes before the quiet night took a dramatic turn.
’They were shooting’
Kimberly Jackson was still marching toward the end the event. The air was calm as she followed the rest of the group back to Belo Garden Park to hear the second round of speeches when terror struck.
“We made it close the parking garage and we heard loud bangs,” she said.
“Many of us didn’t think they were gunshots until people started scattering in every direction screaming and yelling that ‘they were shooting,’” she said.
A series of shots rang out around the downtown area. Chaos erupted as marchers fled to seek shelter.
A total of 12 officers were shot by snipers, five were killed.
Jackson, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend managed to get away from the shooting. But police blocked off the streets and surrounded a parking garage where they believed the shooters were, she explained. There was no way to leave the area.
She found herself stuck in downtown Dallas until 7 a.m. Friday. Only then was she able to get her car and finally drive home.
’We all had to scatter’
Shunkecia Lewis was also at the march Thursday evening.
“It was the most peaceful protest I have ever attended. So many races walking together, even police being alongside and supporting the cause,” she said. “I never saw an officer step out of bounds.”
When the shooting started, it was a surreal experience, she said.
“Literally, we all had to scatter into different buildings,” she said. She and her friend found shelter at the Omni Hotel, but they had to be evacuated from that building as well.
After the shooting ended, the scene downtown turned into something terrifying, Lewis said. “No matter who the shooters were aiming at, it was traumatizing, especially since lives were lost,” she said.
Friday morning, Dallas was a different city.
“The city is really shattered today,” Fullinwider said. But this violent outcome cannot stop the movement for justice, he added.
“We need to de-escalate in this country. Gun violence has just become gun insanity here,” he said. “There is a struggle for justice and it is a very hard fight.”
CNN’s Christina Zdanowicz, David Williams and Alison Daye contributed to this report.