The demonstrations in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police aren’t happening because of just one incident. The outrage is fueled by a pattern of police brutality and centuries of inequality. A pattern that haunts African-American communities across the country — and that set the stage for a special Dallas City Council meeting Friday afternoon.
“Dallas knows its share of George Floyds,” said Dominique Alexander, founder and president of the Next Generation Action Network, which helped organize a number of the North Texas protests. He spoke to the media on Monday - hours before Dallas police confronted hundreds of protesters on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge - about his frustration with city leadership. Alexander pointed to the deaths of Botham Jean, who was gunned down in his own apartment by an off-duty officer, and Diamond Ross, who died while in police custody.
“We are one second away from creating a new hashtag,” Alexander said, his exasperation clear. “We’re tired of these new hashtags. These attorneys are tired of having to represent families in their critical hours. I’m tired of responding to families who’ve lost their loved ones to fatality. And then the system slaps them back in the face with a lack of transparency.”
Over the past week, Alexander’s organization has led a coalition of activist groups that organized rallies, marches and a vigil. Some events ended in conflict with Dallas police. Which is why Alexander, attorney Jasmine Crockett and fellow activists Carlos Quintanilla and Changa Higgins met with city leaders.
“Our meeting with the City of Dallas was outright disappointing,” he said. “We didn’t get anywhere, because the City of Dallas has a problem. It has amnesia.”
The press conference was held outside Dallas police headquarters minutes after their meeting with City Manager, T.C. Broadnax, Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune, Police Chief Reneé Hall, State Senator Royce West, council member Casey Thomas and others.
During the meeting, Alexander said later, his group voiced concerns about several issues: the killings of black and brown men and women by police, the use of tear gas and nonlethal ammunition against peaceful protesters and the disparities in black and brown communities related to education, quality of life, economic development and overall respect.
The number one issue the group had with city officials was linked to the recently revamped Community Police Oversight Board, formerly known as the Citizens Police Review Board.
“The way the office of oversight was implemented in the City of Dallas was wrong,” said Alexander. “We are demanding that the City Council and the mayor have an emergency session about these issues, not only in law enforcement, [but] for the pain that’s going against African-American and Latinos in this community.”
The following day, after Dallas police fired rubber bullets, smoke bombs and flash bombs in front of kneeling protesters, Mayor Eric Johnson called a Friday afternoon meeting of the City Council to discuss the city’s response that led to the declaration of a local state of disaster.
The Community Police Oversight Board is similar to its predecessor, the Citizens Police Review Board.The purpose is the same: to review the facts and evidence about events like police misconduct or shootings by an officer. It’s still made up of 15 members. The members are still appointed by the city council. And the board members are still supposed to reflect the diversity of the city.
The new board was born after months of contentious town hall meetings. The Dallas City Council approved its creation by a unanimous vote in April 2019. And its approval led to the hiring of the city’s first Community Police Oversight Monitor, Tonya McClary.
McClary is basically an intermediary for the police department and the board. As the monitor, she reviews already completed police investigations and reports the findings to board members.
Neither McClary, nor the Oversight Board have the power to subpoena police or city employees. They cannot plan, oversee or execute independent investigations. And all disciplinary decisions are made by the Dallas Police Department’s leadership.
Protesters are seeking a number of changes. They want to demilitarize the police. They want to end police brutality. They want officers punished for racial profiling. They’d also like to see swifter action against officers who use excessive force.
Carlos Quintanilla, of the group Acción America, and Changa Higgins, of the Dallas Community Police Oversight Coalition, say a key change would be to give the oversight board independence from the police department. They want the Board to have the power to investigate and make recommendations that an officer should be fired for doing something unlawful.
“You can’t have a police oversight board without any power. Without the power to investigate, without the resources to hire investigators, without access to the bodycams, without access to the evidence,” Quintanilla said. “What they’re trying to do is bamboozle us to believe that this is going to happen. But not having those powers is like going into a battle without any armor.”
City leaders haven’t directly addressed the recommendations by the Next Generation Action Network and its allies, beyond scheduling Friday’s meeting.
The mayor called a special meeting Friday to discuss the response to civil unrest in Dallas. Here is the information: pic.twitter.com/O4nrwjEcD2
— Office of Mayor Eric Johnson (@DallasMayor) June 3, 2020
Thursday did bring lots of action from city leadership.
Police Chief Hall held a conference call with members of more than 30 area community organizations. She strongly denied using tear gas on protesters -- something a number of them told KERA they witnessed. Hall also pointed out that demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday (after the city expanded the boundaries of its downtown curfew zone) are the most peaceful of the last week.
The chief also fielded questions about arrests and police body cameras. Hall says the department does not have enough for every officer, but she’s hoping that will happen in coming months.
Hall also issued an order focused on the use of force and what an officer should do if they see another cop “taking things too far.”
“They 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,” Hall said.
City Manager Broadnax also released a plan to improve race relations, policing policies and to calm protesters' minds. The four-page document is called “One Dallas: R.E.A.L. Change (Restore Trust and Build Relationships in Policing).”
The action plan, presented at Friday's city council meeting, would guide the city’s focus on areas Broadnax hopes will deliver responsible, equitable, accountable and legitimate efforts to restore trust in the community.
It includes 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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