Tuesday, January 31, 2023 Jan 31, 2023
28° F Dallas, TX



Perched atop the back of a wooden park bench, her white sneakers planted on the thin slats of its curved seat, Joann Zachery looked up and saw them, but they did not see her.

She saw them working in their high-rise office buildings downtown, zooming along the freeways in their cars, relaxing in their rooms in the Loews Anatole Hotel-a home-away-from-home for presidents, a fantastic winter wonderland for the annual Crystal Charity Ball, a refuge for the likes of eccentric superstar Michael Jackson, who holed up there on his last concert tour, indulging in late-night, room-service orders of plain tofu ice cream, microwaved popcorn, and bottles of Evian mineral water.

She could see all of them before her, but none of them looked back. No one ever looked back. No one ever saw the 38-year-old woman on the park bench, or the great expanse of worthless acreage that spread out behind her-her home, West Dallas, a place that no one drives through except fast and on purpose and no one thinks much about except on Election Day.

Joann Zachery comes here to get away- to sit by the water, enjoy a sunset, feel the long sweep of an unobstructed breeze, however fetid, against her face. To Zachery and countless other West Dallas residents, Trammell Crow Lake, a muddy pond with a sprinkle of benches in the Trinity River bottoms just off Sylvan Avenue, is their vacation spot, their Hawaiian island resort.

Minutes later, as the sun dips below the horizon and a chill descends on the park. Zachery walks to her faded burgundy Olds-mobile-the first car she’s owned in years- and turns the key in the ignition. As she pulls out of the park onto Sylvan Avenue, headed away from the blaze of prosperity across the river and toward the darkness and uncertainty of despair after dark, a neon-green message flashes from the back of her car: “West Dallas Think Positive.”

GLORIA BROWN FINDS IT HARD TO THINK positive about West Dallas.

She lives just a mile or two south of the lake, a block off Sylvan Avenue on a street called Muncie. Born 49 years ago in the house next door to her. one of the few property owners left on a transient street that she barely recognizes anymore. Brown finds she is surrounded by people whose wares she has no interest in buying: bootleggers, hookers, gamblers, and dopers who line the street hawking all the liquor and butt and poker chips and weed and rock you could ever want or consume on a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon.

She calls the police. She calls her city councilwoman. But no matter what time she gets home from her job at TU Electric, where she is a technician, the street is abuzz with illegal activity that draws clients from all over Dallas County all through the night.

What drives the big, illicit machine of a place like Muncie Street is money-and when the money runs out, as Brown knows firsthand, the real trouble begins. The customers, especially the dopers, break into anything that might contain something of value and steal to sell. Brown bought one little house around the corner from a relative for $5,000 and fixed it up to rent; it was broken into and stripped before she could ever find a tenant. The new aluminum window frames, the custom cabinets, the tile floor, the toilet, the sink, and all the bathroom piping were ripped out. Today, that house is boarded up with plywood-and even that gets stolen regularly.

“The police know what’s going on here, yet they ignore it,” Brown says. “All of us just figure the police are being bought off. There’s no other reason for a police officer to turn his back on this crime.”


That’s what the police call the bootlegging, gambling, sex peddling, and corner dope-peddling that goes on all over the ten-square-mile community. That’s life in West Dallas, the police say. It’s been going on for decades, and compared to murder and rape and knife fights and the Jamaican gangs that tote Uzis and set up serious crack trades in the neighborhoods, the other stuff just isn’t worth worrying about.

To outsiders, bootlegging may seem outrageous: a person drives to Industrial Boulevard, the closest wet area, buys a carload of liquor, beer, and wine, and sells it out of his home for double what he paid for it. He does a brisk business, especially to winos. who drink their bottles right outside the bootlegger’s door, and people looking for a drink after the bars close. To the people who live around it, it’s irritating and dangerous. To the police, though, it’s just the typical West Dallas deal.

“Hey, if a guy’s got a pocketful of weed or a refrigerator full of beer they’re selling after midnight, who cares?” says Sergeant Herbert Steele, who has worked West Dallas on and off since 1963. “It’s not right, but it’s like worrying about somebody who maybe doesn’t have a driving license and getting all worked up about it.”

Six years ago, Steele led a bust on a well-known bootlegger living in an apartment in the sprawling West Dallas housing project. When they knocked in the man’s bedroom door, they came across $5,000 in coins and $1 bills, which they carted off in bulging bags, much to the chagrin of area residents, who booed the officers as they left, thinking it was liquor that was in all those bags.

Steele has seen it all. He has no illusions. He knows that residents like Gloria Brown are the ultimate victims, but he also knows that throwing a lot of manpower on a street like Muncie just isn’t worth pulling it off some-thing potentially more life-threatening- especially when the jails are overflowing, the criminals are getting released in record time, and the response time to something as serious as a burglary-in-progress is as long as 20 minutes,

“It’s kind of like getting rid of bugs in your house,” Steele says. “Why can’t you get the bugs out of your house? They’re just there, and they never go away.”

OVER ON TUMALO TRAIL, 23-YEAR-OLD Manuel Esparza and his 18-year-old cousin James Sotero come across a pack of teenagers who are stripping a blue Ford Topaz in the neighborhood park, The teens brazenly flash a gun at passers-by as they rip the car’s radio out of the dash. The cousins call the police, who show up about 15 minutes later, but simply shoo the car thieves off. “I felt pretty silly for calling them,” Esparza says. “I mean, over here if you call 911, they ask you right off if this is something ’very, very serious.’ Like we’d be calling if it wasn’t.”

On McBroom Street, Mary Fisher’s house has been broken into six times. After the last time, Mary’s sister, a DISD bus driver, saw her bus dispatcher wearing a familiar leather jacket-indeed, up until the last burglary, it had been Mary’s husband’s jacket. The dispatcher had paid less than $10 for it, along with a box filled with hot turkeys, chickens, steaks, and rib roasts-all of which had been in Mary’s freezer.

On Dennison Street, Kenneth Hogg and a handful of neighborhood and church volunteers struggle to air and outfit 16 apartments that were boarded up until their groups demanded housing for some of the city’s homeless. Now. weeks after the controversy has vanished from TV and newspapers, people like Hogg are left to slog away at their awesome mission with a handful of paint brushes, a few paltry donations, and a lot of inspiration from the heart.

A woman, who until recently slept on the back steps of a concrete manufacturing plant near downtown, stands in front of her new ly painted apartment, eight months pregnant and holding a broom. She has no bed frame, only a mattress on the floor. She has no stove, no refrigerator-only a freezer, tem porarily on loan to her. that quickly ices the milk she needs to be drinking during her pregnancy. ’’

But Ruby Kelley, who is 31 and living on her own, is not complaining. “I’m not complaining about anything,” she says smiling. “As long as I am off the streets and I have a place to bring my baby home to, I am grateful and happy. That mattress feels good compared to concrete.”

All around Ruby, hundreds and hundreds of apartments just like hers are boarded up and empty. It is eerily quiet in every direction. Metal poles that once held clotheslines are bare and rusted. Swing sets are abandoned. Winn-Dixie food baskets lie in the dirt, up-ended and forgotten. In a large courtyard, where abandoned, plywood-covered apartments hold forth on every side, there are no sounds of life or smells of cooking or signs of spring blooming. But there in the barren courtyard, a young boy and girl stand alone in the weeds. Together, they grasp a long, white string that reins in a pink-and-white, diamond-shaped kite soaring overhead. For one long moment, it bobs and jerks and taunts the children below, threatening, it seems, to break its bond and leave them in this place. A place filled with bootlegging and drug-peddling and street hustling and whores and all the other things you never see from the Loews Anatole Hotel.