Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across the country went on as scheduled this weekend amidst swirling rumors, accusations, and questions following the shooting deaths of five police officers at a BLM protest in Dallas, Texas, Thursday night.
At an otherwise peaceful march against police violence, a gunman identified as 25-year-old Micah Johnson, an African-American Army veteran, killed five officers and wounded seven others before being killed himself by a police explosive after a standoff with law enforcement.
Mr. Johnson was reportedly "upset" about the police shootings of two black men earlier in the week and "stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers," according to Dallas Police Chief David Brown.
The tragedy led to backlash from some critics of the movement, who claimed that BLM's message against racially biased policing had incited the violence.
"I do blame people on social media with their hatred towards police," said Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in an interview on Fox News on Friday. He added that the protesters were "hypocrites" for expecting protection from police after shots were fired.
That same day, Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler (R) expressed similar sentiments in a tweet, writing, "Clearly the rhetoric of Black Lives Matter encouraged the sniper that shot Dallas police officers."
BLM leaders responded to the criticism in a press release, arguing that "to assign the actions of one person to an entire movement is dangerous and irresponsible."
"There are some who would use the events to stifle a movement for change and quicken the demise of a vibrant discourse on the human rights of Black Americans," the statement said. "We should reject all of this."
In cities around the country, from Atlanta to St. Paul, Minn., to Washington D.C., BLM activists returned to the streets on Friday and Saturday to continue mourning the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the black men killed by police in Louisiana and Minnesota on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
The flames were fanned further Saturday night when prominent BLM activist DeRay McKesson was arrested by police at a protest in Baton Rouge, prompting thousands of outraged tweets with the hashtag #FreeDeRay.
"[The shooting] is not going to stop our movement," Dominique Alexander, a leader of the Next Generation Action Network and an organizer of the Dallas protest, told reporters on Saturday. "In fact, we want it to strengthen it."
However, BLM leaders say, the tragedy in Dallas has presented new challenges for the movement.
The shootings "make it harder for us to continue on in doing the work of police accountability because it makes the narrative more complicated," Judith A. Browne Dianis, civil rights lawyer and co-director of the Advancement Project, told The Washington Post. "And in some ways it felt like the pain that we have felt [for the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile] was swept under the rug."
In the days following the shooting, groups of activists in the BLM community have held meetings across Dallas to come to grips with what happened and how to move forward. Next Generation Action Network, the group that organized the fatal rally Thursday, is set to hold such an event Sunday evening.
"This is definitely a time that we come together and have an open dialogue," said Next Generation Action Network leader Dominique Torres at a meeting in Dallas on Friday, as reported by Time. "There is definite mistrust, significant mistrust within the African-American community. It’s time for community leaders, pastors, elected officials and police to sit down at the table and be candid, have a conversation about what changes need to be effected."