A man who came to a Thursday Dallas Black Lives Matter protest to raise awareness of fatal police shootings ended his night facing a barrage of death threats after he was wrongly identified as a suspect in a coordinated attack against local police officers.
“Hindsight 20/20, I could have easily been shot,” Mark Hughes, a black man who legally carried a rifle during the protest under Texas’ open carry law, told CBS News.
Early Thursday evening, Hughes joined hundreds of peaceful protesters as they walked through downtown Dallas, chanting and calling for justice for the victims of two recent police shootings. At around 9 p.m. CT the first shots broke out, causing police and protesters, including Hughes, to scatter. It quickly became clear that law enforcement officers were the targets.
Almost two hours later, police sent a tweet identifying Hughes as the first “suspect” in the shooting and asking for help tracking him down. A picture of him at the protest, smiling in a camouflage T-shirt with a rifle slung over his shoulder, accompanied the tweet, which was retweeted almost 39,000 times by Friday morning.
In a late night press conference, Dallas Police Chief David Brown described their search for a “person of interest” wearing camouflage with a rifle, saying witnesses at the scene claimed he was “involved in the shooting in some way.”
“We know that rifles were used to injure and kill Dallas officers,” Brown said.
As his photo was spreading across the Internet like wildfire, Hughes received a phone call from a friend telling him he was a suspect, he told CBS. Immediately, he said, he took his shirt off “for his own safety” and “flagged down a police officer” to turn over his gun.
Facebook user A.S. Samuels captured video of Hughes turning himself into police and passing them his rifle.
He and his brother Cory Hughes were taken into custody, interrogated by police, and released at around 1 a.m. ET.
Police sent a new tweet clearing Hughes’ name and announcing that he had been released.
— (((Sana))) (@dallaspiosana) July 8, 2016
According to the Hughes brothers, it was too late. In a video interview with CBS shortly after they were released from custody, they described the impact of having Mark’s photo spread all over news sites and Twitter.
“He was allowing himself to carry an arm, a firearm, but that’s his constitutional right. And because someone went crazy and some opportunist decided to hurt people, now he’s plastered all over the media,” Cory Hughes said, noting that his social media accounts had been flooded with death threats.
The brothers said they immediately went to police to try to assist them after the gunfire broke out, and helped to direct traffic and hide people behind buildings.
“Human nature says we don’t want anybody to be hurt,” Cory Hughes said, reiterating that they were there for a “peaceful protest” and that both the two black men who were videotaped being killed by police in shootings this week and police officers themselves are all “human.”
Hughes said his brother could have “easily” been killed because someone “irresponsibly” identified him as a suspect.
“It was persecution on me unrightly and I feel that they need to do something about that,” Mark Hughes said of the Dallas police, saying he was “not satisfied with an apology” and still felt unsafe walking the streets of his city.