DALLAS — One man says the Dallas Police Department put his life at risk by publicly naming him as a person of interest in the immediate aftermath of the worst mass shooting of police officers in U.S. history.
Mark Hughes was an activist exerting his legal right to openly carry a rifle at the Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas where gunman Micah Johnson allegedly opened fire on Thursday, killing five police officers and injuring nine others, including two civilians.
In an interview with CBS Dallas just hours after the shooting, Hughes recounted his ordeal in police custody after he turned over his rifle and surrendered himself to authorities. “I just got out of the interrogation room for about 30 minutes with police officers lying, saying they had video of me shooting, which is a lie,” he said.
“That they have witnesses saying I shot a gun, which is a lie. I mean, at the end of the day, the system is trying to get me,” he continued.
A tweet identifying Hughes as a possible suspect remained on the Dallas Police Department’s Twitter feed for about 17 hours — well after Hughes had been questioned and released by police. By the time police issued a retraction, the image of Hughes in a camouflage T-shirt with a rifle slung over his shoulder, had already spread across mainstream media.
— Austin Storey (@ShwegmeisterBob) July 8, 2016
“The tale of Mark Hughes and his brother Corey is a story of everything that is wrong with race relations and policing in America today, except that this tale has a marginally happier ending in that no one actually died,” commented Jay Newton-Small, a Time magazine correspondent, on July 9.
“Mark Hughes of yesterday is not the same Mark Hughes of today,” Hughes told Time. He recalled his shock at seeing his face distributed by the media:
“When I was walking out of the police station, I saw on big screen TV—on CNN, I think—I saw my face on there. I couldn’t believe it. I was angry for the simple fact that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was just down there to clear my name.”
Though his name has been cleared, Hughes says he has been the target of “hundreds” of death threats.
After taking refuge at a hotel, the family’s attorney, S. Lee Merritt said Hughes and his brother Cory, a Black Lives Matter protest organizer, were confronted by an “angry mob” on Sunday.
“Cory went to the bathroom and noticed a group of white guys staring at him and they had pictures of his brother up on their phones,” Merritt told Shaun King, senior justice writer at The New York Daily News.
“He came back to me where we were eating and those same guys started taking positions around us by the exits,” Merritt continued. “I got us up in a hurry and got out of there.”
Merritt said Mark and Cory Hughes have since been forced to leave Texas.
Watch “Mark Hughes, man Dallas PD called shooting suspect, speaks to media” from KTVT:
Dallas shooting renews debate over open carry laws
According to a report from the Dallas Observer, Hughes was one of about 20 open carry activists at the Black Lives Matter protest. Police have said the presence of the open carry activists — many of whom were wearing military-style garb and carrying military-style rifles — made their work more difficult, and it’s renewed a larger debate over open carry policies.
“There was … the challenge of sorting out witnesses from potential suspects. Texas is an open carry state, and there were a number of armed demonstrators taking part,” Dallas Police Department Maj. Max Geron wrote in a first-person account published by the Observer.
“The sequence of events involving Hughes underscores how citizens carrying firearms on display can compound the danger in a violent, chaotic situation,” wrote Mother Jones’ Mark Follman.
But CJ Grisham, president of Open Carry Texas, fired back at these criticisms in an interview with the Observer:
“This has nothing to do with open carry. This is nothing more than an anti-gun police chief and an anti-gun Dallas mayor who are trying to use a tragedy, an utter tragedy that had nothing to do with open carry to push their political agenda and keep guns out of the hands of the American people.”
While open carry activists have become a common sight, the treatment of black activists like the Huey P. Newton Gun Club and the killings of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and 22-year-old John Crawford, both of whom were fatally shot by police while holding toy guns, have led some to suggest that gun rights do not apply equally to black and white people in America.
“Police officers need to be forced to respect the law, whether they are confronting armed Caucasians or armed African Americans,” wrote CounterCurrent News’ M. David in May 2015. “The law says, in most places, that the police do not have the exclusive right to be armed.”
Watch “Black Man vs White Man Open Carrying AR-15 Legally” from Really Wild Videos: