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On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

Dallas Mayor Keys In On Mental Health, Domestic Violence

BJ Austin, KERA

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings wants to change a culture of violence in the city. The mayor says he’s been wrestling with how to do that after last month's school shootings in Connecticut school shootings after last year's jump in domestic violence murders in Dallas. Step one: A Feb. 5 symposium on mental health co-sponsored by KERA and The Dallas Morning News.

“We sometimes act as if violence is a norm,” the mayor said Monday at a City Hall news conference. “Violence is not the answer. It is not the answer to any question facing the city of Dallas.”

Rawlings said the symposium was spurred by the links to mental illness in recent mass shootings.

“The purpose is to help us better understand, engage, discuss it around the dinner table, talk to neighbors about it and say there is something we can do about this,” he said.   

The mayor said Dallas must not be afraid to examine the roots of violence and take action.

“For far too long, mental illness is one of the dirty little secrets in Dallas," he added. "It’s something no one wants to deal with. It’s a stigma.  That scarlet letter, if you will."

And he promised more details soon on the Feb. 5 symposium.

Last year, 26 people in the city were victims of domestic violence homicide.  That’s two-and-a-half times more than in 2011. Police Chief David Brown has created a new task force of 100 officers to serve warrants for violent crimes. Officers have an average of 60 domestic violence arrest warrants to serve each day. 

Rawlings urged Dallas to get off the sidelines and let it be known that family violence will not be tolerated.  The city’s Domestic Violence Task Force, headed by council member Delia Jasso, got four new goals from the mayor:

  1. Create an education program for students in the Dallas Independent School District.
  2. Improve outreach to victims of domestic violence, making sure they know what resources are there for them.
  3. Provide counseling and resources for family members of domestic violence victims.
  4. Increase capacity at local shelters.

And Rawlings said he’s trying something different.  He says he wants to talk to the city's men, with plans for a big rally in the spring.
“This violence is our fault. It’s not the women’s fault,” he said. “We have been the violent gender over the centuries, and we must own up to it.  Tradition has enabled the action we see around us, and we’ve created those traditions.  The culture of male violence has only been perpetuated by locker room talk, radio talk shows, video games, how fathers talk to sons, and our inability to deal with anger living deep inside.”

Rawlings says he's received commitments from Bishop T.D. Jakes, State Rep. Rafael Anchia, plus Dallas Cowboy Jason Witten and former Cowboy Emmitt Smith to join his "Enough is Enough" rally and campaign against domestic violence.

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.