Spare a thought today for this poor guy, who escaped last night with his life but had to endure a few hours of national ignominy and the death threats that inevitably come with that when Dallas PD briefly fingered him as a suspect. Note: Not “person of interest.” Suspect.
This is one of our suspects. Please help us find him! pic.twitter.com/Na5T8ZxSz6
— Dallas Police Depart (@DallasPD) July 8, 2016
Social media usually makes things worse after a terror attack by speculating half-assedly about who the terrorist might be (here’s a notorious example) but in this case it came through by helping to exonerate the “suspect,” Mark Hughes, quickly. Within an hour of cops circulating his photo, people on Twitter started circulating this video. Who’s that on the left, about 15 feet away, at 00:05 milling about with the crowd after the shooting started? Yep, that’s Hughes, the supposed gunman.
— DMN Photo (@dallasnewsphoto) July 8, 2016
He had the misfortune of wearing a camouflage shirt and bringing his rifle, which is legal under Texas’s open-carry laws, to a political rally that turned into an ambush attack on police. As soon as he found out he was wanted he turned himself in and was eventually released, but not before cops allegedly told him they had eyewitnesses and video of him shooting at people. The tweet accusing him of being a “suspect” is still up at the Dallas PD Twitter account as I write this with no subsequent correction. No one apologized to him, says Hughes, at least at the time the interview embedded below was conducted.
What should reasonably be expected of the police under these circumstances, I don’t know. Obviously they had to find Hughes and question him; a man with a rifle at the site of an attack involving a rifle is the dictionary definition of a person of interest. They could have been more precise with their tweet in not referring to him as a “suspect” but (a) it’s hard to begrudge them a careless error when five men were dead and an active shooter was loose and (b) most people probably would have assumed he was a suspect even if they had described him correctly as a “person of interest.” There’s probably no way to minimize cases of mistaken identity in a situation like this, but Hughes will now spend the indefinite future looking over his shoulder for would-be vigilantes who have seen his “suspect” photo but didn’t see the part about him being cleared. (Nowadays every mass shooting seems to birth inane “false flag” conspiracy theories online so he’ll probably end up ensnared in those too.) He’s a minor victim of Micah Johnson’s compared to what the police and their families are coping with today, but he’s a victim too.
— Dr. Seema Yasmin (@DoctorYasmin) July 8, 2016