Downtown, according to Mayor Mike Rawlings, holds much of the responsibility for the future success of Dallas. It’s where, he says, “the young people want to go.” Or at least the city center, which extends to the patchwork of neighborhoods that surround downtown. Downtown was where he went when he arrived in Dallas in 1976, working on Young Street and then Main before Pearl at the Plaza of the Americas and then Uptown, at the Crescent. He saw shows at the Statler and drank beers and ate chili at Tolbert’s.
Speaking at Downtown Dallas Inc.’s annual luncheon today, he used himself and his experiences as a lead in to the type of person Dallas should try to attract. These are people like Botham Jean, the mayor said. He was a 26-year-old who worked as an associate at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in the Trammell Crow Center. He volunteered his time at orphanages and at schools for at-risk kids. He lived in the Cedars. Jean’s sister even said her brother liked Dallas so much that he tried to recruit her from New York City. He was the type of person who makes a city vibrant. And he was killed by a police officer who says she entered the wrong apartment and thought he was a burglar.
“We need them smart, we need them educated, we need these hardworking twentysomethings down here. Botham Shem Jean was one of those,” Rawlings said. “I have to pause here and recognize that this city has been grieving for just over a week for a young man who perfectly fits the profile of the kind of people we want in this city and that we want downtown.”
The mayor framed his speech—his last for Downtown Dallas Inc. while he’s in office—to describe Jean as the person he was and the asset he was to the city. Successful, empathetic, driven, kind. The mayor was pushing against a narrative that tumbled out after police leaked a search warrant on the day of Jean’s funeral. It showed that officers found just over 10 grams of marijuana in his apartment after officer Amber Guyger shot him dead. His family’s lawyer immediately denounced the detail as an attempt at character assassination; Fox 4 immortalized it in a tweet and the headline to their story about it.
Rawlings condemned framing the detail in a way that would denigrate Jean. He then defended Police Chief U. Reneé Hall from her critics. He also jabbed at Councilman Philip Kingston, whom he did not name, by alluding to Kingston’s nomination of a white council member to be the mayor pro tem after Dwaine Caraway gave up his position and pled guilty to fraud. Mayor pro tem is a ceremonial title that has been held by a black person since the city was broken up into 14 districts. Here is the mayors whole quote:
“Part of our tribute to him should be that we live by the values that he represented and we keep this city, this downtown, as a place that he fell in love with it. We need to be like Bo. Sadly many aren’t. Today there are many on social media and news outlets that want to spread false innuendos. Bo was a great man. And I am disturbed today by those who try to besmirch his reputation. Shame on you. Stop it. There are others that want the same, to do the same to Chief Reneé Hall, for her to lose her credibility. She has courageously made the right decisions and we should all stand with her.
“Whether it’s smearing the ethical credibility of black elected officials that happened in our city horseshoe a couple of weeks ago or by attacking our first African-American female chief or dishonoring the life of Bo, it seems to be an insidious habit by some of being overly critical of black individuals with notoriety. This has got to stop on social media. We need them to stop and we must do our part. We must be united to honor these people not tear them down.”
The rest of the mayor’s speech was standard boosterism: downtown is back and thriving. Now more than 11,000 people call it home, up from 200 in 1996. (The mayor provided an anecdote of a friend who proclaimed that downtown Dallas, once a “ghost town,” was now “better than New York City.” It elicited groans from the audience.) He said the city’s pursuit of Amazon’s second headquarters proves that Dallas can compete with the neighboring suburbs; whether that was a slip that Amazon has zoomed into downtown in its search as compared to the other locations offered by the Dallas Regional Chamber is unclear. But the largest takeaway remained Jean, the type of person who, Rawlings said, will lift the city ever higher.
“We have to build it for the next generation,” Rawlings said of downtown, concluding his speech, “for people like Botham Jean.”