Dallas surgeon: Not saving officers 'weighs on my mind'

Posted at 5:22 PM, Jul 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-11 17:22:08-04

When officers who'd been shot by a sniper in downtown Dallas started showing up at Parkland Memorial Hospital, trauma surgeon Dr. Brian H. Williams went to work, pushing aside the inner conflict he faces every day as a black man who's careful when encountering police.

The emotional toll remained evident days later. His voice quivering, Williams expressed regret Monday that he was unable to save all who were brought through the storied hospital's doors — and gave voice to the intense racial turmoil roiling the country.

"I understand the anger and the frustration and distrust of law enforcement. But they're not the problem," Williams said at a news conference with other surgeons and a trauma treatment team. "The problem is the lack of open discussions about the impact of race relations in this country."

A 25-year-old black man fatally shot five officers Thursday, attacking a protest where hundreds were gathered to protest recent fatal police shootings. An additional nine officers and two civilians were injured.

At a news conference, Williams and his colleagues sought to convey what they encountered that night and how they're relying on the bond they have with each other to deal with the emotional aftermath of what is the deadliest attack on police since 9/11.

For Williams, the scars were profound.

"It's not just about that one night. It's about the racial undertones that affect all of this," said Williams, a former aeronautical engineer who served in the Air Force, graduated from University of South Florida in 2001 and did his residency in general surgery at Harvard and his fellowship in trauma care at Emory University in Atlanta. "I don't know what I'm going to do about that. But right now it's certainly a struggle."

As a black man in America, he said, he faces a dichotomy of standing with law enforcement — one of his colleagues is a doctor who is also a police officer — but also feeling angst and fear any time he passes a police officer. He described taking steps to bridge the racial divide, such as picking up the tab at a restaurant whenever he sees an officer grabbing a meal and trying to instill greater comfort in his young daughter about dealing with police.

"I want my daughter to see me interacting with police in that way so she doesn't grow up with the same burden," Williams said. He also said he wants police to see a black man showing support.

Still, he said, "That doesn't mean that I don't fear you. That doesn't mean that when you approach me I won't have a visceral reaction and immediately fear for my safety."