We have now seen two straight days of peaceful protesting through the streets of Dallas, so set aside the weekend’s violence as you read this. Set aside the riots and the spectacle. Think instead about those protests. Think about the moment and what it means, all these American cities marching together.
Dallas is not a city that moves the way it did in recent days. It didn’t happen with such force for Botham Jean, it didn’t happen for Atatiana Jefferson, and it didn’t happen for Jordan Edwards. You can and should decry the violence and the looting and the rioting, but you cannot deny the message of the hundreds of peaceful protestors who walked through the streets, who walked among the cops, who walked with their hands up and their signs above their heads and raised their voices to express a simple message: stop killing our neighbors. Stop killing black people. For their efforts, they have been met with tear gas and flash bangs and sponge bullets.
There are videos of a 2-year-old being wheeled away in his stroller near Main Street Garden as tear gas encroaches. A woman getting groceries was hit with a pellet of some sort and bled profusely from her forehead. When things like this happen to the innocent, it instigates others. Last night, a group of hundreds marched up the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. They may have been led; many didn’t know what was coming. They found a line of cops in riot gear that fired off smoke bombs and those sponge guns. Dallas has been aligned with those other cities by the police violence, too.
We keep hearing the narrative that those who are causing the trouble are out-of-towners. The Dallas Police Department has released a spreadsheet that showed just 16 of the 60 people released on Monday were from the city. But there are many, many more marching. It is difficult to blame this on a few, and it is important to note that many protestors have voiced frustration that their marches have been met with violence from the police department. It is important to control a crowd as it gets violent. But last night, those protestors weren’t even asked to walk back down the bridge before the violence happened.
Let’s talk about Friday night. After the protest was broken up, the groups narrowed and splintered as they made their way through downtown and Deep Ellum. These folks smashed windows indiscriminately. Forty Five Ten and Neiman Marcus were hit, but so were Café Momentum and Sneaker Politics.
The chaos and destruction is news and it’s worth covering, but it’s not the message. The message comes from the largely peaceful protestors. Take a look at last night, on the bridge. They got on their knees before the line of cops and shouted, “I can’t breathe.”
The message is to bring about structural change, an awakening to systems that have given preference to some and not others, creating two cities in one. One where our black and brown neighbors are policed differently, educated differently, and provided with different opportunities because of their ZIP codes. Of course people are pissed off. And then they have to watch a man die under a police officer’s knee, over and over and over again.
George Floyd did not die in Dallas, Texas, but his killing is another spotlight on the injustices that exist in every major American city. Dallas is not immune. These protestors want justice, but they also want change. Locally, that’s looking at the decisions that have separated those who have from those who do not.
We need to be actively listening. What does that mean? It means when our neighbors in West Dallas and Joppa complain about breathing polluted air from industrial plants, we look at what can be done. It means seeing the poverty rate in neighborhoods that have been destroyed by freeways and instituting policies that can lift them up. And once they’re lifted, the people who lived there before should be protected from property tax increases they cannot afford. It means listening when people say they have no doctor or health insurance or access to healthy food and finding ways to bring them those things.
Even the testing sites for COVID-19 are concentrated in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. Dallas can’t even remove a 60-foot tall pile of shingles that were illegally dumped next to a woman’s home in southern Dallas almost three years ago. People in this city can easily ignore these problems, but now they’re all marching through downtown. Gov. Greg Abbott was just asked at Dallas City Hall about what the state can do to make these structural changes. He spoke of this being “the beginning of a dialogue that we will have among the members in the Texas Capitol to focus on issues like this.” Not exactly specific.
Here is what Byron Sanders wrote for D Magazine yesterday:
The next step in the evolution of this American civilization is to embrace an empathy that demands when your sister or brother cries guttural from the pangs of inequity and racism, believe them. Do not wait for their blood nor stand idle until they draw yours. Call on your city and county officials and support the work of reimagining how life can be when peaceful living doesn’t ask people of color to capitulate their dignity or numb their sense of justice.
Nothing about this situation is easy or simple. There was property damage in our city. There will likely be more. But there was also police violence that swallowed peaceful protestors. Chief U. Reneé Hall said Saturday that the situation on Friday night had become untenable, with protestors hurling bricks and slashing tires. She said that merited the use of tear gas, which appears to be the first time in at least 30 years that the department has used it. She defended her officers’ actions last night, too, noting that it is illegal to occupy a highway.
But you can’t focus on the people jumping on cop cars without talking about the others who were shouting for them to stop. They met the gas just like the others. The crowd last night was peaceful; they weren’t even asked to remove themselves before the officers launched the smoke. How is that de-escalation?
This is a moment in history in which Dallas is a mere puzzle piece. What our public officials do—both to allow the people in this city to raise their voices peacefully and to push forward to improve the lives of those who are hurting through no fault of their own—is what we all need to be paying attention to.
A version of this story originally appeared in D Brief, the weekly newsletter that goes out Sundays. Like it? Hate it and want to email me about it? Either way, sign up here.