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Three Weeks After the Bridge Disaster, Dallas’ Protests March Onward

New voices have risen up. Public officials are starting to listen. The marchers in the Dallas protests are undeterred and will not waver.
By Trace Miller |

For the past 27 days, dozens of protesters have gathered at City Hall and marched through the streets of downtown and Uptown in a show of solidarity against police violence and systemic racism. Yesterday evening was no different. Nor was the evening before that.

This Monday marked three weeks since we last saw police become violent toward the protesters, when they kettled and detained 674 peaceful marchers on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge after they shot smoke or tear gas—that’s still unclear—and fired “less lethal” munitions at them. We haven’t seen riot gear since.

In less than a month, we’ve seen elected officials pay attention to what protesters are calling for. Already, 10 members of the Dallas City Council have asked the city manager to explore reshaping next year’s budget to take money from the police department and put it toward social services. These protesters are demanding the construction of an entirely new, equitable foundation.

The shift in the protester-police dynamics can be traced to a place—and an event—whose shadow still falls faintly over every rally and march: the night the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge became a trap.

The event left many on the bridge traumatized and shook many others who were watching on live TV. For non-Black allies, some viewed it as a microscopic sample of the life of a Black American. As Teresa Richards, a Black woman who lives in Dallas, told me, “You [saw] white people getting pushed around. Now they see how we feel. You know? White people are saying, ‘Oh, well that’s not fair!’ Hell, we’ve been saying that for 400 years, it ain’t fair! But now you see. Because God, [they were] treating you like they treating us.”

Since the bridge incident, what we’ve learned from authorities is negligible. Numerous journalists and protesters have testified to the dispersal of tear gas; Dallas Police Chief U. Reneé Hall has waffled between denying its usage and hedging, saying she didn’t authorize its deployment. Whatever the case, a federal judge has banned DPD from using tear gas and other less-lethal weapons and projectiles against peaceful protesters. The Dallas City Council is investigating law enforcement officials’ actions on the bridge, as Councilman Adam Bazaldua announced two weeks ago. Chief Hall has been grilled by the mayor and pushed by protesters to resign.

That Monday night followed a weekend of police violence upon protesters. In an audio recording of a police radio scanner, made Sunday, May 31, the night a curfew went into effect, Chief Hall said, “Today, we are playing no games. No exceptions.” Officers respond with whoops and exclamations of “Thank you, chief!,” “Finally!” and “Get some!” She allowed the indiscriminate teargassing of citizens—including journalists—on Friday, May 29, and Saturday, May 30.

Drive-by shootings of less-lethal projectiles were filmed Saturday night. An hour after the curfew went into effect, more than 100 were arrested for violating it and held for hours at Lew Sterrett. While the charges for the bridge protesters have been dropped, they’ve stuck for those charged with violating curfew.

In the wake of public outcry, Chief Hall now allows protesters to block Uptown and downtown Dallas intersections every night.

For days after the ambush on the bridge, protesters stuck to sidewalks, not daring to step foot in a street. If anyone did step into the street, they were instantly shouted back onto the sidewalk. For days after the ambush, the chorus was “Stay on the sidewalk! Don’t throw things!” If anyone even looked like they wanted to throw something, they were instantly ostracized by other marchers.

Until the city government lifted the 7 p.m. curfew, rallies and marches were held in the afternoon despite the heat. They lasted up until about 6:50 p.m., at which point crowds vanished like smoke, sometimes relocating to areas outside of the curfew zone. Bail funds were raised; pro bono lawyers’ phone numbers were memorized. A flock of volunteer EMTs follow along, just in case.

On June 3 and June 5, despite (or, perhaps, in spite of) the trauma still fresh just days after the bridge incident, two remarkable, peaceful marches took over the streets of downtown Dallas. Flirting with 1,000 marchers, they were organized by Not My Son, a Dallas-based organization founded earlier this month by Tramonica Brown and run with the support of Kolby Campbell, Sheema Kashaka, Burnett McGriff, and a handful of others.

The Dallas Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression marches through Uptown on June 6, 2020. (Photo by Miles Hearne)

On June 6, the Dallas Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression—a regional chapter of the National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression—organized the largest march we’ve seen this summer. DPD reported a crowd of approximately 3,000. Some estimates reached 5,000.

These three marches were not violent. There were no confrontations with the police. Speakers—young and old, Black, White, Latino, Palestinian, Filipina—discussed problems and solutions.

These three marches seemed to represent a turning point. The police relaxed, the protesters’ demands gained recognition and traction, and one demonstration after another terminated and disbanded peacefully. Although the average size of the crowds has slowed slightly since that first week, the protesters’ energy has yet to waver. The organizers’ resolve has yet to flicker.

“The crowds are getting smaller,” Brown says. So, “we have to focus that energy on things that we want to get done in the community.”

Organization has increased. Among other groups and coalitions, there is Not My Son, as well as In Defense of Black Lives Dallas, a BIPOC coalition led by women, gender-nonconforming, and Black trans individuals. It comprises the Dallas Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression (DAARPR) and a handful of other organizations: BYP100 Dallas, Democratic Socialists of America North Texas, the Palestine Action Committee of Texas, Mothers Against Police Brutality, among others. The tactics and ideology of Not My Son and In Defense of Black Lives Dallas differ, although their demands largely overlap.

In Defense of Black Lives Dallas (itself a member of the international coalition Movement for Black Lives) is a politically progressive, economically socialist, socially intersectional movement concerned not only with ending the war on Black people but also with resolving the plight of all people of color (like, Latinos, Filipinos, and Palestinians) in the U.S. by tackling capitalism, discrimination, and racism.

The organizers lead marches and vigils once or twice per week. They are generally unwilling to work within the system by collaborating with police officers or elected officials on policy reform. They prefer voting, politically educating residents, and advocating for their four-point petition.

“People who are wanting to just make little piecemeal changes are not people that we are going to work with,” Jennifer Miller, one of the cochairs of DAARPR, said after a march on June 6. “I would be willing to work with them if they would admit that making these piecemeal changes doesn’t actually lead to liberation for anyone.”

Not My Son is less revolutionary and more pragmatic. Brown and fellow organizers have had southern Dallas Council member Casey Thomas and Dallas police Sgt. Ira Carter speak at their events. Brown has talked with state Sen. Royce West about collaborating. Brown and fellow organizer Campbell are discussing a police reform bill with U.S. Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Dallas).

“I’ve been blessed to be able to be a bridge,” Brown says. “And that’s what I call Not My Son: ‘the community’s bridge.’ Because some people don’t want to talk to anyone. They just want to rally. And where rallying is good, somebody’s got to go in and talk to them.”

“Our biggest goal is to help bridge the gap, positively, between protesters and police—to really come together to create change together,” Campbell says. “Not forcing one or the other to bend at the knee. But overall, our goal is—we want to inspire and then educate those around us.”

Brown said that if she were Martin Luther King Jr., then Kashaka would be Malcolm X. Kashaka, alongside McGriff and a handful of other Black and White Dallasites, leads nightly marches through the streets of Uptown and downtown. While Brown handles the paperwork and the politicians, Kashaka handles the people. It’s an arrangement that works just fine; Kashaka generates the attention and Brown harnesses it.

Not My Son hosted a Juneteenth event at Lofty Spaces in the Cedars. (Photo by Miles Hearne)

The demands of Not My Son and In Defense of Black Lives Dallas overlap. Both prioritize “defunding DPD,” divesting from DPD’s nearly $517 million budget and investing in affordable housing, healthcare, mental health resources, public education, and homeless solutions. (Mercedes Fulbright, an In Defense of Black Lives Dallas organizer associated with BYP100, told me that a 30 percent budget reduction is the bare minimum.)

More specifically, In Defense of Black Lives Dallas is demanding a reduction of DPD’s size and the removal of military-grade equipment (they’re also demanding an “immediate depopulation of Dallas County jails” and ICE detention centers in response to COVID-19).

Not My Son is pushing for a national database of all police officers’ names, photos, and badge numbers, as well as demanding that bodycams and dashcams become comprehensive and mandatory in police departments. Officers should be fined $2,500, Campbell adds, if they turn the cams off.

“They hold teachers to an unholy regulation,” Campbell, a high school teacher, says. “We have morality clauses and contracts. And up until recently could get fired for being gay, or anything like that. So, it’s just one of those things where teachers are being held to such a high standard. But why aren’t police?”

“They have guns,” he continues. “They have weapons. Teachers don’t. And it’s the same in really all other occupations, all other jobs. Like, if you work in fast food, or you work in customer service, you can’t step out of line, or you’re going to get in trouble. You can’t do X, Y, Z because you’re gonna get in trouble, you’re going to get fired, you’re gonna lose your income. But obviously, what we’ve seen, is that police officers can do just about anything—including murder—and get away with it, unless there is a national outcry.”

Both groups would like to see Chief Hall resign. Brown thinks it would be great if she were replaced by a Dallas native—“and I’m not talking about somebody who’s come from Lake Highlands,” she adds, “because Dallas is more poverty than it is anything else.”

The best summarization of the In Defense of Black Lives Dallas’ and Not My Son’s aims came from Fulbright and Brown, respectively.

“It’s so compounded, the system,” Fulbright said on Juneteenth, marching up Akard Street. “Systemic racism is so compounded, so the way that we have to unravel it is gonna look like multiple things. And so, I can’t offer just one solution about what community control could look like. But I know folks need housing, they need safe housing. Folks need roads that they can travel on. Folks need transportation to get to their jobs. Folks need livable wages. So many things that, if you actually invest in folks’ lives and provide them with the quality of life that they need, they wouldn’t resort to the crimes that we’re seeing. The petty crimes that we’re seeing that’s forcing systems like the police to keep them in cages.”

“We want a real, legitimate reform budget of Dallas,” Brown said the next day.

Organizer Mercedes Fulbright leads a march on June 5, 2020 protest in Dallas. (Photo by Miles Hearne)

The messaging of the protests has been heard by public officials. County Judge Clay Jenkins tweeted a list, compiled by local civil rights leaders, of “10 New Directions for Public Safety and Positive Community Change.” Two weeks later, he reiterated his support for it.

Chief Hall—the day after banning chokeholds by general order—implemented a “duty to intervene” general order, which requires that Dallas police officers stop fellow officers from inappropriately using force. City Manager T. C. Broadnax sent to the mayor and the City Council a memo calling for the implementation of a “warning before shooting” police by June 12; a review of all “use-of-force” policies to be published by August 28; the creation of a policy, by June 30, to guide the release of bodycam and dashcam footage of critical incidents; the expansion of the RIGHT Care program, which responds to mental health emergencies, by October 1; and the implementation of an “early warning system,” which flags officers with three or more troubling incidents, by November 27.

We’ve even seen 10 City Council members address protesters’ demands to defund DPD. On June 9, they sent to City Manager Broadnax a memo stating that “it is time to reimagine public safety.” “With this memo,” they wrote, “we respectfully request you facilitate the alignment of our intentions with our resources. We ask you to present options that reallocate public safety funding to equitable community funding.”

But it’s not enough.

“Honestly, I think it’s just kind of the start,” Campbell says. “I feel like that’s almost the bare minimum that they could be doing to really help create change—especially in the Dallas area … Right now, the changes that they’ve implemented within the Dallas police department just happen to be the same changes that were in place at the Minneapolis police department. And we clearly saw how that went. So at the end of the day, that’s just the beginning.”

“I would like to hear more is that our city leaders actually commit to [defunding DPD] and stop shying away,” Fulbright adds.

Perhaps there’s no better closing metaphor than Juneteenth, on which day, June 19, in 1865, slaves in Galveston were notified that they’d been legally free for over two years. (Both In Defense of Black Lives Dallas and Not My Son led marches numbering in the hundreds; the latter march, in a supremely symbolic act, followed Martin Luther King Blvd through South Dallas, through the intersection with Malcolm X Blvd, to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center.)

The slaves, free de jure, enslaved de facto, had been “freeish.” Many protesters wore that word on their shirts last Friday. These protesters argue that ending police brutality would erase only the tip of systemic racism. Tackling the rest—Black Americans’ disproportionately limited access to quality education, healthcare, healthy foods, safe and affordable housing, livable wages, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and so much more—will take much more time and effort. It’s why dozens, or hundreds, maybe thousands, will keep protesting and demonstrating every day until they see change.

Remember, that change takes time. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 381 days.

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