Bully power

Learning that rabble rules at Dallas school board meetings

"I don't hate them devils, but I talk like it is," he said. "Black people are tired--I'm tired of being a profile suspect every day I walk by my house. I am not racist."

Racist? No. I do accept the truism--proffered by black leaders such as John Wiley Price--that prejudice plus power equals racism. But racially prejudiced? Come on, Mr. Beasley. In a mere 60 seconds I had been transformed in your eyes from white devil to South Dallas sister--apparently based on one skinny comment about my husband, who wasn't even in the room.

Racially prejudiced? Absolutely.

When the trustees reconvened around 4 p.m. for the formal board meeting, the second round of audience howling began within minutes.

The tone was set by the New Black Panthers, who entered the room chanting, "Keever must go! Keever must go!" County Commissioner Price, NAACP president Alcorn, and Panther "spokesman" Thomas Muhammad then strode to the front of the room to demand a discussion of the Lincoln TV incident.

"Dr. Gonzalez, make a phone call--turn on the TV," Alcorn said aloud. "Is she speechless? We want to hear from her."

Instead, the board resumed its workshop on parliamentary procedure. Newly appointed Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez didn't say a word.

The room was quiet for a while--at Price's urging, surprisingly enough--but Earnestine Taylor grew restless, plainly bored with the relative state of decorum. Out of nowhere, she began bellowing, "I want my tax dollar! I want my damn tax dollar! I know my parliamentary procedure, and this ain't it. Tax dollar, c'mon. I want ya."

"Go back to Santa Fe!" someone shouted at Gonzalez. "If you can't stand the pressure, go home!"

"Hey Miss Colorblind, can you see us now?" Beasley screamed.
Price then began speaking directly to Gonzalez, but his words were drowned out by the heckling.

"Ms. Gonzalez, the commissioner is speaking to you," Beasley yelled out.
"You respond to this doggone community, lady," the Rev. Stovall piped in.
Soon Earnestine Taylor was screaming: "Don't touch my wheelchair!"

Believe me, no one wanted to touch her wheelchair. But by this time, the room was overflowing, and to get to the empty seats, folks had to work their way around Taylor, parked as she was in the middle of a narrow aisle.

Once again, the meeting was out of hand. After some 30 minutes of pandemonium, the board announced they were breaking for dinner.

"Don't disrespect us by going to dinner," Price said to Gonzalez. "Don't do that."

To the accompaniment of shouts and murmurs, the trustees filed out yet again, having failed to get through a single agenda item for the called board meeting.

Shortly after 6 p.m., while most of the black demonstrators were still milling around in the hallway, the trustees more or less sneaked back into the board room and started hastily pushing through the evening's short business agenda.

DISD security guards stood outside and barred the board room doors, and it took several minutes for the many demonstrators who'd left their seats--Beasley and Taylor included--to realize they were shut out of the meeting, even though several chairs remained empty.

With a scared-critter eye cocked toward the small windows of the board room's double doors, Keever mowed down the agenda items one by one, getting ahead of himself at times, while the black board members reminded him that at least some discussion was warranted.

This was Keever's version of democracy--the product of desperation. But the truth is that many people who had a right to be present at this public meeting, Mari-Lena Ochoa among them, were stuck in the hall, kept from entering by a phalanx of hefty security officers.

And sooner or later, they figured out there were empty seats inside.
Keever had pushed his way to the last item. It was 6:25, and I heard a rap on the board room door, then loud voices. Keever had that cornered look. The mob was closing in.

At 6:31, I heard a thump thump. Thump thump.
The door cracked open, and Earnestine Taylor's foot--and the leading edge of her wheelchair--momentarily protruded into the board room. Then the foot pulled back, the door shut, and I heard the muffled squawk of her voice.

Thump thump. Thump thump.
Then we all heard a woman's shrieking voice--"Get your hands off of me--don't touch me!"

The commotion grew in the hall, and all eyes in the board room turned to the door. The barrier was fixing to break.

"HE TOUCHED MY BREASTS!" the woman screamed. Then the door burst open. A jumble of Black Panthers, Hispanic activists, reporters, and hapless DISD employees and students surged in, filling the aisle.

Beasley bounded in and got right in the face of the woman who'd screamed--Sequoyah Learning Center community liaison Dolores Castaneda East, who claimed she was assaulted by one of the Panthers. LULAC activist Alfred Carrizales rushed to her defense.

Beasley got cut off in mid-rant: "You and this whole goddamn act has got..."
"THE HELL WITH YOUR BLACK ASS!" Carrizales shouted.
"Ooooooh!" the ladies behind me gasped in unison--then yelled "Take him out! Take him out!"

"Crazy," someone commented, as the meeting lurched to a close.
How crazy? I turned here to Mari-Lena Ochoa--a virgin to this brand of craziness--for guidance. "It's frightening," she said with a sigh. "They should show everything on TV. I just think it's ugly. It's sad. Half of these people, I wonder if they even graduated from high school. I wanted to be a teacher--now I'm afraid."

But it's not the chanting that's fearful. After two years, we're over that. No, it's what we don't see that's frightening--the loss of good people, people like Mari-Lena Ochoa.

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