The uneasy relationship between Dallas’ police force and some of its residents was on display this week, and a talk Thursday at the Dallas Holocaust Museum sought to make sense of recent events.
A staged conversation at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum included Dallas Assistant Police Chief Avery Moore, Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson, as well as Sara Mokuria from Mothers Against Police Brutality and Dr. Brian Williams, the former chair of the Dallas Police Review Board.
There was broad agreement that the trust gap between police and communities of color and other marginalized groups has no easy solution. They pointed to a racist history in policing, disparities in how laws are enforced, and how some communities experience police as enforcers rather than protectors.
Society expects police to respond to too many social ills, Mokuria said, like mental health crises or homelessness -- problems that they’re not equipped to solve.
“If I want to fix a lightbulb, I don’t use a hammer,” Mokuria said. “But we have a society that only has one tool, which is police and incarceration, and that has to shift. It’s not working.”
An audience member asked Assistant Chief Moore if he, as a black man, is afraid when he gets pulled over when he’s out of uniform.
“Have I been stopped? Yes. Have I been racially profiled? Yes. Am I afraid now? Not so much for me, but I have three sons. ... And when they get in the car to leave, I have a thought. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s a real thought for me, and that’s: Police brutality is real,” Moore said.
Moore says he doesn’t want all police painted in a bad light because some do wrong. But his response gets to the concerns that many Dallas residents live with every day.
Recent events in the aftermath of the Amber Guyger trial for the killing of Botham Jean, plus the shooting death of a key witness in the trial, Joshua Brown, just two days after that conviction led to speculation not just about how he died but who might have been involved.
Police said Tuesday that the two events were not related. They announced capital murder charges for three Louisiana men in connection with the death of Joshua Brown, a result of a drug deal gone wrong. Two of the three men were in custody by Wednesday, and one remains at large.
Still the Brown family continues to call for an independent investigation of the murder. A lawyer for the family, Lee Merritt, said in a statement that “a cloud of suspicion will rest over this case until steps are taken to ensure the trustworthiness of the process.”
Also on Tuesday, the Dallas Citizens Police Oversight Board convened for the first time. In April, the city overhauled the Dallas Citizen Police Review Board, giving it stronger oversight authority to look into police misconduct, and creating a new department in city hall to monitor the police department.
The inaugural oversight board meeting erupted into shouting and shoving when the board failed to include time for public comment on the agenda, as required by law, and told attendees they wouldn’t be given a chance to speak.
Police Chief U. Renee Hall ordered the room cleared, and police officers tussled with community members angered by the mistake. Eventually, the board opened the microphones for comment. Activists then laid into the board, focusing especially on three board members who had voted against expanding the board’s oversight authority.
Pamela Grayson, who is African American, told the board their job was to oversee the police department and root out bad actors. She framed their work as a matter of life and death.
“I’ve got a kid. I’ve got two, one of which is 25 and lives in his own apartment and sits on his couch and eats ice cream,” she told the board, referencing Botham Jean. “If you can’t help me, get out my way.”
Grayson and other speakers demanded that the board not be deferential to the police department, but understand that their role is to be a check on them.
These moments came in the wake of revelations during the Guyger trial that have led to fresh investigations within the police department.
Prosecutors during the trial presented evidence that Guyger got special treatment after she killed Botham Jean. Text messages between her partner were deleted, and there’s no recording of statements Guyger may have made inside a police cruiser following the shooting. The head of the police union ordered the camera in the car to be shut off.
Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata has defended turning off the camera because he says Guyger was going to be talking to her attorney.
Prosecutors also presented racist and violent text messages Guyger exchanged with fellow police officers, mocking black colleagues and making fun of Martin Luther King, Jr. Chief U. Renee Hall called the revelations “concerning” and said she was opening internal investigations and reviewing policy and procedures.
“What you saw and heard [during the trial] was disheartening,” Hall said at a press conference following the sentencing, adding that perceptions of the Dallas Police Department and law enforcement in general were damaged by the trial’s revelations.