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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Controversy

Witch Joins Fight to Banish UNT Young Conservatives of Texas from Campus

| 3 weeks ago

An effort to ban a conservative group from the University of North Texas has reached for the heavy artillery: magic.

According to social media posts picked up by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online news outlet, witches have joined the fight to push-out UNT’s chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas by casting spells intended to inflict misfortune (if not physical harm) on the leader of a group of what they call “Hex racists.”

Follow that? Me neither. Here’s a quick breakdown of this perfectly 2020 controversy:

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Arts & Entertainment

Dallas Arts Still Can’t Catch Federal Funding Break

| 2 months ago

About a year ago, I wrote about how Dallas arts and cultural organizations struggle to secure funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Looking back over two years of grants, Dallas received around 45 cents in federal arts funding per resident. Compared to a city like Seattle, which received around $3.20 per resident during that same time frame, that’s not good.

The city’s Office of Arts & Culture hoped to mentor more arts groups through the federal endowment’s application process. A year later, however, and things haven’t improved. The latest round of NEA grant funding has been announced, and out of 1,114 recipients, only 54 are in Texas and just four are in Dallas. As Deep Vellum founder Will Evans points out on Twitter, that’s four grants for the arts in the ninth largest city in the country. Yikes.

Why should we care? Well, as I wrote last year, NEA funding not only helps pay for important cultural activity, it is something of a barometer of the health of a local arts community. Cities that receive the lion’s share of NEA funding also tend to have strong sources of local and state funding. Healthy local patronage enables arts organizations to build capacity for long-range planning and foster a depth of development experience that can help craft successful NEA grant applications. The lack of successful NEA grant applications in Dallas is one indication that our local arts ecology is ill.

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Police

What ‘Defunding’ the Dallas Police Department Could Look Like

| 2 months ago

Samuel Sinyangwe is an activist and Stanford-trained data scientist and policy analyst who co-founded Campaign Zero, which researches solutions to end police violence. Although based in New York, yesterday on Twitter Sinyangwe took a passing look at the budget of the Dallas Police Department in order to illustrate what “defunding” the police could look like in practice.

Given the controversy and confusion around the word “defund” that has erupted in Dallas since protesters began calling for it in the streets — and 10 of 14 council members used it in a memo to the city manager on Tuesday — I believe it is worth walking through Sinyangwe’s analysis to offer some clarity on what this policy approach actually means.

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Police

‘Defunding’ the Police Is Not a New Idea in Dallas, It’s an Overdue One

| 2 months ago

In late 2019, Sara Mokuria, associate director for leadership initiatives with The Institute for Urban Policy Research at the UTD and a co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, helped organize a new network of activists under the name Our City Our Budget. The group advocated for including funding for a handful of deceptively simple programs in the 2019-2020 Dallas municipal budget.

At the time, the Dallas City Council, spooked by a record spike in crime, was promoting what they called “a public safety budget.” But Mokuria believed that directing money to the very programs the city planned to cut to afford more police officers—parks, rec centers, homeless services—would have a better impact on public safety. “We think we should be having an anti-poverty budget, not a public safety budget,” Mokuria said at the time. “And truly, an anti-poverty budget is a public safety budget. When you invest in the people, you don’t have to police them.”

In recent weeks, Mokuria has become one of a handful of prominent voices that have emerged from the protest movement to advance the call to “defund” or “dismantle” the police department. And while these words have quickly become weaponized to promote polarization around the issue of police reform, they aren’t new ideas in Dallas. Activists like Mokuria have been advocating for them for years. They represent a desire to change the public’s perception about the role of policing in America, to recognize that pouring money into an increasingly militarized police force doesn’t reduce crime; it does, however, terrorize many communities of color.

Defunding the police, Mokuria says, is simply a process of reallocating the city’s resources toward programs and departments that are better suited at addressing the instability, inequality, and degradation that contribute to crime. It means no longer trying to address all of the city’s problems by dumping more money into the police department, and instead funding mental health, drug addiction treatment, and better schools. “Defunding is investing in cleanup of environmental racism,” Mokuria says. “It is addressing the housing crisis.”

Perhaps the person who best articulated the need to defund the police was, somewhat ironically, former Dallas Police Chief David Brown. In the wake of the 2016 police shootings, Brown acknowledged that the tension between the police and the community is a result of a system that pretends that the police are the solution to too many societal problems.

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Civics

How Can Dallas Turn the Lessons of the Streets Into a Program of Change?

| 2 months ago

Dallas—and the country—is experiencing the most widespread movement of direct action we have seen in more than 60 years. People are taking to the streets to demand that this city wakes up, listens, and sees the systemic and endemic racism that has defined the lives of people of color in America for what it is. If real progress is going to be made, however, that direct action must advance an agenda of change.

Based on the many conversations going on right now, there is a hunger for change. When Love Field swiftly moves to take down a statue of a racist cop, when the hosts of sports talk station The Ticket spend a week soul searching, you know we have entered a new kind of moment. Reforms that weren’t imaginable a month ago now seem possible.

Change is already happening. Los Angeles may redeploy public funds from its police budget to fund community development. The Minneapolis City Council voted to disband its police department. Even during the disastrous Dallas City Council meeting Friday, the city manager presented a list of possible reforms, and promising ideas were put forth by council members, like reimagining the police academy and banning elected officials from taking campaign donations from police unions.

This next step, however, concerns me. A knee-jerk response to the crisis will likely miss the monumental scale of the problem. Racism runs through every aspect and every institution of American society. It is baked into the structures of power that hold our city, state, and country together. Racism is so much a part of American life that we are blind to most of the insidious ways it defines our culture. Confronting that is going to take courage, not only from our neighbors who have taken to the streets but from all of us.

Over the past week, I have seen a lot of well-meaning efforts to confront the problem. There have been the numerous corporate statements backing Black Lives Matter; public symbols of support, like the blackout of Reunion Tower; and the sharing of articles and ideas on social media about how to support businesses owned by people of color, contribute to organizations that work in disadvantaged communities, and raise money to help repair the damage to properties that took the punch of the anger that manifested in Dallas’ streets. These are not meaningless gestures. They represent people in positions of power and privilege saying, “We hear you.”

But ultimately these are only gestures. They are the kinds of gestures that have been made before, and they are gestures that have proven hollow when it comes to making meaningful change. Real change is going to need to strike more deeply, and it is going to require more than giving our attention, time, and money. But to understand what real change looks like, we must first confront assumptions about how our society works.

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Arts & Entertainment

Watch Filmmaker Ya’Ke Smith’s New Short: ‘Dear Bruh: A Eulogy. A Baptism. A Call to Action.’

| 2 months ago

Ya’Ke Smith is the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody College of Communication’s first Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, though for years he was a mainstay in Dallas’ film community. I first encountered Smith’s work when he screened his feature film Wolf at the Dallas International Film Festival in 2012. Wolf is a powerful and complex film about child abuse in a church and its effect on a family and a close-knit community. It has never really left me. Smith previously taught at the University of Texas at Arlington, and since Wolf, his short film “Dawn” made a splash on HBO and remained in rotation for a couple of years.

Yesterday, Smith alerted me his latest piece, called “Dear Bruh: A Eulogy. A Baptism. A Call to Action.” The short film, which you can watch below, is a elegy born of our current moment, a moving reflection on love and loss, racism and history, suffering and endurance. I won’t say more. The piece speaks for itself. Listen.

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Local Government

Is Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s Leadership Style Suited for the Moment?

| 2 months ago

A year ago, former state Rep. Eric Johnson defeated former Council member Scott Griggs to become the 62nd mayor of Dallas. It has been a tough year to learn how to lead a city. Since Johnson took office, he has had to face a sharp rise in violent crime, a devastating category-3 tornado, a pandemic, and now mass protests over police brutality.

During that time, we have learned a lot about the mayor’s leadership style—and yet not a lot about the mayor. Johnson comes across as a reserved, private figure, protective in his language and careful with his actions. Around the horseshoe, he leans on parliamentary procedure and public statements to advance policy objectives. He prefers to communicate with the public via press conferences, television interviews, and social media.

In recent weeks, we have seen how this leadership style can create confusion and contention at City Hall. Matt reported on the mayor’s ongoing spat with the city manager over the balance of power at City Hall, a tussle that has played out via a series of lengthy communiques but few actual conversations between Dallas’ two most powerful leaders. In the June issue of D Magazine, I write about how this leadership style has also cast a shadow over the mayor’s relationship with his colleagues on the Council, alienating nearly half of them and sowing distrust among Dallas’ governing body.

As the last week has shown, Dallas is at a pivotal moment in its history, a time when inspirational leadership, strong moral guidance, and real reformative action are needed more than ever. Is Eric Johnson up for the task? His behavior during his first year in office raises doubts.

Here’s the piece. It’s online today.

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Local News

Dallas County’s Super Tuesday Was Messy

| 5 months ago

On Super Tuesday, nearly 320,000 Dallasites cast their votes in the primaries. Many of those voted without incident. But some didn’t. If this is a run-through for November, the county has a lot of work to do. At some polling locations, election workers simply didn’t show up. At others, the machines were broken. As the clock ticked near 7 p.m., lines—like at the Oak Lawn branch library—snaked past two hours. And late Friday, the county asked for permission to recount the ballots. Election administrator Toni Pippins-Poole said 44 tabulating machines weren’t counted; her office found the flash drives.

On Tuesday, as Shawn reported, a judge approved the recount. They believe they’ll need to cross reference between 7,000 and 8,000 ballots and do not believe that this will change the outcome of any of the races. Both parties basically stood pat until the ruling came. Rodney Anderson, the Republican party chair for the county, told the Texas Tribune, “We anxiously await the explanation from the election department on how this could possibly happen. Until such time when we have this, I’m not going to deal in supposition and what ifs.” On Tuesday, they fired shots at one another from the hallway of the courthouse.

We didn’t know which of the 454 polling locations were affected until Tuesday. But the new machines—which printed out a ballot with a unique barcode for each voter after the selections were entered digitally—weren’t exactly smooth. I voted the Friday before Super Tuesday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. After I got my ballot, I tried to feed it into another machine for tabulation. The machine wasn’t working. We slid our ballots into a locked bin instead, and the judge told us they would be counted later. She told us this situation is why there was a paper trail and reiterated that in court on Tuesday.

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Arts & Entertainment

In the Jungles of Borneo, Searching for Dallas’ Lost Political Kingmaker

| 5 months ago

Around 7 years ago, I was sitting at Ascension in the Design District with Rob Allyn, the former Dallas political consultant, who was telling me about his new movie idea. That Allyn was working on a film was already something of a novelty. If you follow local politics at all, you know Allyn’s name. The firm he founded still dominates the local political landscape. Allyn left that firm a while back to reinvent himself as a filmmaker. During that time Allyn had managed to produce a string of action films shot in Indonesia. But his new film idea was a different beast.

As Allyn described his film about 19th century British explorer James Brooke, who fought pirates in Borneo and became king of the indigenous head-hunting tribes there, images of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo flashed through my mind. To make that movie, the famous German director drove his cast and crew into the Amazonian jungle where his lead actor went mad and members of the crew died after the director forced them to drag a boat over a mountain. The idea of shooting a film about Brooke in the juggles of Borneo sounded like a similarly madcap escapade, and I told Allyn I wanted to write about his movie. I’d be lying if part of the allure of following the film’s production wasn’t the pure adventure of the thing and the chance that, like Herzog, it might all go up in flames.

We lost touch. I figured Allyn hadn’t managed to convince enough people to invest in his lark of a film. But then, last September, Allyn texted to say they were about to begin shooting the movie, called Rajah, in Borneo. Before I re-pitched the story to Tim, I checked the airfare. Remarkably, it was only $850 or so, which I figured wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. The flight would be long, especially given the time-constricted travel schedule, but it also required a couple of long layovers in Singapore, and, having watched more than a few Anthony Bourdain episodes set there, that didn’t sound like the worst thing in the world.

I got the thumbs up, packed my bags, and headed to the other side of the world. The story about what happened next appears in the March issue of D Magazine and goes online today.

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Local News

Super Tuesday Voting in Dallas County Wasn’t Without Hiccups

| 5 months ago

Overcast skies loomed over Dallas on Super Tuesday as thousands of voters from across the city flocked to the polls to cast their ballots in Texas’ primary elections.

Dallas County offered 14 voting precincts and 243 cumulative voting locations. Before Super Tuesday, 1,085,065 Texan Republicans and 1,000,231 Democrats had taken advantage of early voting. But the big day started with some hiccups.

By 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, 383 voters had cast their ballots at North Dallas High School in Uptown. The location got off to a slow start because of technical difficulties.

Election Judge Bill Barnes said the election volunteers weren’t given the usernames and passwords to login in to the computers and pull up the voting pages. Later in the day, two express voting machines malfunctioned. Another failed mechanically. All three machines were fully functioning by noon. Voters reported similar problems across town at the Lochwood branch library, where none of the machines were running at 7 a.m. The voting machines are a hybrid of a digital and analogue, with voters electronically voting but receiving their ballots on a sheet of paper with a unique bar code. The voter gets a receipt and turns in the ballot to another machine. Other issues weren’t even technical. The Dallas Morning News reported some poll workers just didn’t show up to their locations to run the machines.

But it seemed most of the problems were solved by the afternoon. Dallas resident Danny Tipton said he only waited about 10 minutes in line at North Dallas High, and most of the voters around him seemed content with the wait.

“The guy in front of me was getting a little impatient, but honestly it wasn’t bad,” he said.

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Politics

Troll Neighbor No Fan of Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Candidate

| 5 months ago

It’s Super Tuesday. I hope you’ve voted. If not, go here to find out where you can. The good news is that you don’t have to vote in your designated precinct, so if you want to skip out at lunch and head to your nearest voting location, do it!

Depending on where you live and what party primary you are voting in, you may be confronted with a down ballot battle between current Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan and her opponent, Michelle Espinal-Embler. The race sets up as a stand-off between the local Democrat old guard and a young, insurgent newcomer. Check out Donovan’s list of endorsements. It’s a who’s who of local political players. But then head over and read this Eric Celeste piece from 2017 about how it is exactly those entrenched political leaders who are holding back young and progressive voices in the local party. You’ll begin to understand why Michelle Espinal-Emblar, a young community organizer and activist, is running against Donovan.

A taste from Celeste’s column:

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Politics & Government

Everything You Need To Know For Super Tuesday

| 5 months ago

Today is Super Tuesday, when voters in Texas, 13 other states, and one territory go to the polls to choose their party’s nominees in races ranging from president to constable.

It also means your mailboxes—and my apartment complex’s parking lot—will soon be less cluttered by colorful, joyful, and strange mailers from campaigns and political action committees.

By Wednesday, the onslaught of campaign ads for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg broadcast on everything from television to Shopkick should disappear, at least for a while. Don’t worry, Democrats: you’ll see another round come from two runoffs, one for the U.S. Senate and perhaps for state House District 108, where three Democrats are vying to defeat state Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Highland Park, in the fall.

If the state’s numerous barriers to voting haven’t stopped you from voting, get in line by 7 p.m. and bring one of the approved permitted forms of identification. This year, you’ll be voting electronically but will receive a printed sheet with a barcode and your selections. You’ll submit that paper, creating a trail. On Twitter, there are reports of equipment problems from Mansfield to East Dallas. We’re calling election judges to figure out what’s going on.

According to numbers guru Derek Ryan, 1,085,065 Texan Republicans already voted compared to Democrats’ 1,000,231. Statewide more people voted Republican in 219 counties compared to Democrats’ 35. Collin and Denton are among the 219 while Dallas and Tarrant counties are among the 35.

Primary numbers don’t translate into general election voters, however, much like yard signs don’t vote. But the turnout shows both sides are energized going into the fall.

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