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Dallas Trauma Surgeon Reflects On Irony Of Treating Wounded Police Officers


A week ago, Americans woke up to the news of a targeted killing of police officers in Dallas. The shooter seems to have been motivated by the death of two black men at the hands of police earlier in the week. The wounded police officers in Dallas were brought to Parkland Memorial Hospital where Dr. Brian Williams helped treat them. He's a trauma surgeon. He's also black. And at a press conference on Monday, he talked about the tension he feels.


BRIAN WILLIAMS: There's this dichotomy where I am standing with law enforcement. But I also personally feel and understand that angst that comes when you cross the paths of an officer in uniform, and you're fearing for your safety. I've been there, and I understand that. But, for me, that does not condone disrespecting or killing police officers.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Williams joins us now from Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Thank you for being with us.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me, Ari. It's my pleasure.

SHAPIRO: It was very powerful and emotional just to watch you in that press conference. What did it feel like sitting there and what was going through your head?

WILLIAMS: Well, when I went to that conference, I did not intend to say those things. While I was sitting there listening to the conference progress, there was this conflict going on in my head about what should be said. And then at some point, I really can't explain it. My mouth just engaged, and the words came out.

SHAPIRO: You have a 5-year-old daughter, and I was struck by what you said during the press conference about her. Let's listen to this.


WILLIAMS: I do simple things when I'm out in public. When I see police officers eating at a restaurant, I pick up their tab. I even one time a year or two ago, I bought one of the Dallas PD officers some ice cream when I was out with my daughter getting ice cream. I want my daughter to see me interacting with police that way, so she doesn't grow up with the same burden that I carry when it comes to interacting with law enforcement.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us about the conversations you've had with your daughter this week?

WILLIAMS: Well, specifically related to this incident, I have not had any discussions. I don't know that she would understand what is happening. You know, she knows that her daddy fixes people. That's what she tells me when I go off to work. But in regards to this incident, there will be a discussion. I don't know when. I don't know how. My wife and I will have to - need to discuss that when the time comes.

SHAPIRO: You weren't originally supposed to be on duty at the hospital that night.

WILLIAMS: That's correct. I was not scheduled to be on call. One of my partners asked me to switch with him because he had a previous trip planned with his family.

SHAPIRO: Do you find any meaning in the fact that you were there and that you went through this experience?

WILLIAMS: When I look back at this in retrospect, I feel that there is some reason for me to be there on that night. I had already been feeling somewhat hopeless and despondent as a result of the killings the prior two days with Mr. Sterling, Mr. Castile. I think it's ironic that I was the one that was there to care for those officers knowing my personal feelings about law enforcement.

I certainly did not allow my personal feelings to in any way interfere with the quality of care I give any patient regardless of their ethnicity or race, status. But the outcomes have certainly been weighing on my mind ever since then.

SHAPIRO: I mean, I wonder if part of the outcome of this is that conversations that used to happen in private among nonwhite people are now happening in public with black, white and other people.

WILLIAMS: That is certainly my hope. There really is, in my opinion, no chance of having any kind of true, sustainable change until we are at least willing to acknowledge that black men are targeted in all segments of society. Once you acknowledge that, then we can actually move forward and address why this is happening and come together to make this country a much better place for our children.

SHAPIRO: And is that something you would have been reluctant to say in public before all of this happened?

WILLIAMS: Oh, absolutely. I don't think I would have said this at the dinner table with any of my close friends.

SHAPIRO: And what does it feel like to now be saying it out loud to the world?

WILLIAMS: I feel relieved. I feel lighter on my feet. But it's not completely easy because I'm still grieving for these officers and their families, and, you know, I still see their faces. I still hear the family members wailing after I tell them this bad news. But I do feel hopeful that at the end all this will be very good for me personally, good for my family and also good for a much larger segment of society.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Brian Williams, thank you for everything you've done and also for speaking with us.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me, Ari. It's been a pleasure.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Williams is a trauma surgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas where he treated wounded officers after last week's deadly ambush. He's also an associate professor of surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.