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Public Anger At Dallas Meeting Focuses On Police Tactics At Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge Protest

Protesters chant in front of Dallas City Hall in downtown Dallas, Saturday, May 30, 2020.
Associated Press
Protesters chant in front of Dallas City Hall in downtown Dallas, Saturday, May 30, 2020.

At a nearly eight-hour city meeting on Friday, Dallasites demanded the firing of Police Chief Renee Hall, called on the City Council to defund the Dallas Police Department and questioned the use of tear gas and so-called less-than-lethal-weapons

They also requested the citywide curfew be lifted, which happened over the weekend.

These requests were made during the public comments portion of the meeting, which Mayor Eric Johnson says he called because he wanted people to "share their concerns regarding the city's response to the protests."

Dallas police shot tear gas into a crowd, Chief Hall says, after bricks were thrown at police officers on May 29.

And law enforcement officers used a wooden round of ammunition on a protestors on May 30. Brandon Saenz, 26, lost his eye after being shot that day by a type of less-than-lethal ammunition, such as pepper balls or rubber bullets (it's still unknown what the ammunition was).

But much of the anger was sparked by an incident from Monday, June 1: Police are accused of turning a peaceful protest in downtown chaotic by deploying a technique known as kettling, where officers surround a group of people on all sides, boxing them in.

▸ RELATED | Police Confront Hundreds Of Protesters On Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge In Dallas

What happened at the bridge

"My perception of what happened," said Adam Schwartz, the first public speaker at the meeting Friday, "was that police tactically turned a peaceful, rightful First Amendment protest into a potentially massive and dangerous conflict."

KERA also interviewed several protesters who were at the bridge that day. All of them said they felt like they were "set up," including Reza Askari.

Police confronted kneeling protesters on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas on June 1, 2020.
Credit Hady Mawajdeh / KERA News
Police confronted kneeling protesters on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas on June 1, 2020.

"It absolutely felt like we were gonna march," said Askari, describing what happened on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. "I don't think there was a misunderstanding there. [Police] knew that because they were closing off streets and as I walked up the bridge, I passed a couple cop cars. We saw cops. No one spoke to me. No one told me to not go on the bridge, certainly."

Askari's account of police that night included officers in riot gear, gas, smoke and rubber bullets being shot into the crowds and handcuffs.

"My friend got hit in the head with a tear gas canister," Askari says. "It wasn't smoke. It definitely was not smoke. And they just started firing at us. My girlfriend has a gnarly bruise on her leg."

More than 600 demonstrators were detained and charged. Chief Hall defended the decision to arrest protesters at the bridge the following morning.

"I strongly believe we made the right decisions to deter and disperse the large crowd on the bridge," said Chief Hall. "We had to protect the protesters from vehicular injury on a roadway still open to traffic. It was critically important to process protesters and then safely reopen the bridge."

A new 'duty to intervene' order

But by Thursday, Hall had changed her tune and said protesters who marched on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge will not be charged. Thursday was also the day Hall announced an order that requires Dallas police to intervene when a fellow officer is using excessive force.

Hall explained via conference call to a group of 30 community organizations that police "have a duty to ensure that if they witness or are part of a use of force situation that is unnecessary or excessive, they have a duty to intervene and stop it or they are subjected to the same penalties as the officers who are using it."

The order is meant to prevent a death like George Floyd's, who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

RELATEDGeorge Floyd Was Killed In Minnesota. Why Are People Protesting In Dallas?

Activist and president of Acción America, Carlos Quintanilla, called Hall's order toothless. He says the city's police oversight board must instead be given more power, like the ability to subpoena police.

"Not all of the officers are going to follow that behavior, right? Some of them are going to say, 'You know what? I'm not gonna do this, chief. I'm not your spy,'" he said. "So we need to have something independent that can do a thorough investigation of the behavior of that particular officer at that particular time."

Other plans that aim to restore trust in police

Meanwhile, City Manager T.C. Broadnax also issued a memo that outlines his plans aimed at restoring trust in policing, such as:

  • A ban chokeholds or other force meant to restrict a person’s airway
  • A policy to warn before shooting, to be implemented June 12
  • Guidelines to release body cam and dashcam video of critical incidents

The plans include a review this summer of all use-of-force policies and creating a policy regarding the release of bodycam and dashcam footage during critical incidents.
Broadnax also says the city will implement a program by January aimed at building community relationships.

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