In a Facebook post yesterday evening, Dallas City Council Member Omar Narvaez responded to yesterday’s leak of a Dallas Police Department internal report documenting the use of tear gas on protesters on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge by promising to hold top Dallas police officers accountable for what he called “direct insubordination” of the Dallas police chief.
The post includes an image of a prior post Narvaez made on June 1 in which he repeated Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall’s claim that police did not fire tear gas at protesters law enforcement officers had trapped on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge that evening. However, after the leak of the internal report that documented the use of four canisters of tear gas on the bridge, Narvaez apologized for his previous post and explained how he had been misinformed about the incident:
I made the statement as I was informed by [Mayor Pro Tem] Adam Medrano who was in the vehicle with Chief Hall when she gave the order to not use tear gas. He also heard the reports back to her on the radio that only smoke was used which he also put on the record during a council meeting. I trusted the reports being heard as they were given to our highest law enforcement official were accurate.
On the following Friday, June 5, a special called meeting was held as requested by Mayor Johnson. During that meeting Chief Hall stated that tear gas was not used and only smoke was used. Which was in my opinion still accurate due to what was reported to me. . . . My trust has been betrayed and that’s a shame.
Narvaez goes on to say that he has already spoken to Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax about investigating and holding accountable any top DPD officers for what he called “the direct insubordination to Chief Hall’s order to not use tear gas on the bridge.” Narvaez said he will push for a permanent ban of the use of tear gas by police and apologized to protesters.
While Narvaez’s comments demonstrate how Chief Hall may not have been lying to the council when she insisted that no tear gas was used on protesters that night on the bridge, they also paint an extremely troubling picture of chaotic and unaccountable police leadership, with high-ranking officers lying to their chief about their use of chemical weapons against Dallas citizens. Narvaez’s comments also do not clarify whether or not Chief Hall knew about the use of tear gas by the time of the June 5 meeting, or if she was still being misinformed by her officers. And if the use of tear gas was documented by the time of the draft internal report, which is dated June 12, why has Chief Hall not taken any action to hold these apparently insubordinate officers accountable for their actions?
The entire situation points to a Dallas police chief who has completely lost control of her department.
One of the arguments voiced by the marchers who have taken to the streets to protest police brutality is that police departments across America have become unaccountable to the citizens whom they have sworn to serve and protect. Policing culture in America, they argue, is to blame for the use of violence and force against American citizens. The Dallas Police Department’s internal report — as well as this account of how leadership broke down around the police response to the protests — could not offer a more perfect illustration of how police departments are prone to unaccountable and self-justifying uses of force.
This incident has nothing to do with “bad apple” police officers killing African-Americans in the streets — and yet, it has everything to do with it. If a police department can’t restrain itself from using chemical weapons that are banned for use in war zones by international treaty against hundreds of peaceful marchers on a Sunday night in Dallas, how are we to expect police officers to show restraint in more direct or violent confrontations?
Yesterday, the Dallas Police Department issued a memo stating it would no longer utilize tear gas to control crowds, while reserving the right to use these weapons in other instances. But how are we supposed to trust the police department now that it has become clear that its own leadership will deceive their superiors in order to utilize such force? In light of that willingness to lie, how can we trust that the internal report itself is telling the entire story of the response to the protests — from the use of violence against protesters, to the characterizations of what events justified the use of violence, to strategic measures the department took during the protests. How, for example, are we now expected to believe that police are telling the truth when they say they didn’t lead the march onto the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge that night, before trapping and gassing them?
Narvaez is right: our trust has been betrayed by the Dallas Police Department. But while the council member’s promise to hold leadership accountable is commendable, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Chief Hall has lost control over her top-ranking officers, and she also has not held any of them accountable for that direct insubordination. And yet, not a single council member raised the prospect of firing Chief Hall? Why?
The Dallas Police Department has demonstrated a willingness to lie and miss-characterize its actions and motives with regard to the handling of the protests, and yet, no council members are calling for an independent, external investigation into the police response to the protests. Why?
The Community Police Oversight Board, whose attendees Chief Hall once referred to as “animals,” would be the body to conduct such an investigation, and yet the board doesn’t possess the subpoena power it would require to properly pursue such an investigation. Why?
In the wake of the protests, there was a lot of solidarity and remorse expressed by our elected officials in support of mass movement against police brutality. And yet, here we are more than 50 days into ongoing marches and demonstrations, and there has been zero action taken to address the most basic problem facing policing: the absence of leadership or basic accountability among top police officials that has been known by the mayor and council members since at least June 17.
Correction: Chief Hall referred to the audience of the oversight board as “animals,” not the oversight board.