By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Let's be fair. The man can't help it that he sounds like a yapping Chihuahua when he's angry.
After all, if you'd been charged with keeping order in the mighty dysfunctional world of DISD board meetings, you, too, might find yourself letting loose a few high-pitched canine squeals of aggravation from time to time.
Needless to say, this condescension doesn't sit well with the men and women who've come to register their protests of "business as usual" in the DISD, however undecorous those protests may be.
The problem is compounded when the white board president then makes the most unfortunate faux pas of calling a black citizen who's just delivered a three-minute address to the board "Ms. Gilliam," which prompts him to stumble over himself in Boy Scout apologies. (Believe me, DISD teacher's aide Johnnie Jackson looks nothing like the black trustee in question.)
This ineptitude--so often perceived by blacks as intentional disrespect--was precisely what some of the district's noisiest hecklers and haranguers cited when I tracked them down away from the fray, hoping to get an answer to perhaps the biggest question of the year: Why do these people persist in their profane and irksome antics week after week after week?
Whether you accept Keever's clumsiness as an excuse for all of the crazy stuff that's gone down at recent board meetings is another matter; I don't. But I also have an aversion to cussing--particularly the sort that's aimed viciously at another human being. That's called verbal abuse, and it's deployed without pause by John Wiley Price and Co. at DISD.
What I saw, though, after sitting through an interminable board meeting last month and reviewing tapes of others, is that Keever and his hecklers feed off of each other. The hecklers start their silliness, and the board president's peevish attempts to stop them only fuel their indignation and outrage, because Keever can't seem to do it without sounding patronizing.
While the DISD trustees, on February 14, unanimously adopted policy changes designed to curb the excesses of protesters--allowing Keever to ban repeat violators from board meetings for 30 days--the truth is that we could stand to lose both Keever and the hecklers. Like, yesterday.
That was the conclusion I reached after spending some eight or nine hours talking to three of the district's citizen hecklers, the people who work so hard to keep the 10 o'clock news interesting.
I found that Keever is a walking insult to them, an offense that cannot be corrected. Though there's a good argument that any white man in his position would provoke a similar response, you'd have to watch Keever in action to gauge the depths of his cultural obtuseness.
One thing is clear. As long as Keever and the hecklers are free to do their thing, the board's embarrassing stalemate will surely continue.
So go ahead, toss the hecklers.
But Keever's gotta go, too.
"You lying witch!"
Gregory L. Beasley pulled out a tattered gray scrapbook that documented the significance of his 35 years on this planet. The cover was adorned not with his baby picture, but a John Wiley Price bumper sticker: "We support our man downtown." Inside were blurry snapshots of public protests, a church flier titled "The Nigger Christians!" and newspaper clippings detailing the exploits of Price, New Black Panthers leader Aaron Michaels, and other public provocateurs.
Beasley appeared in the fuzzy background of some of the photos, as he duly pointed out.
There were also articles documenting some of the ill deeds done to black people in Dallas--police shootings and the like. "Those are just some of the things that takes place in this city that makes black Dallas frustrated," Beasley said softly.
This day, as we talked in the kiddie section of South Dallas' public library, Beasley bore no resemblance to the agitated man who scurried about the DISD board room on January 23, viciously heckling Keever and Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez.
He was kind; he made an effort to understand. He talked about his two teenage sons, who live with his ex-wife and attend DISD schools, and spoke plainly about his own failure to finish high school.
"America don't hear us," Beasley said. "I believe in my heart--and I know in my mind--that there are non-black people who care about what's going on, but those are very far and few, and they're not speaking out."
The reason for the heckling, he said, "is to stop business as usual--because it's apparent how hard they've worked to exclude African-American people in the process. They're doing a yeoman job of cutting 'em out of committees. As long as that goes on, they're not gonna have any peace. There won't be any meetings conducted until they get it right."
(Beasley was referring to the Dallas Observer's January cover story, "'It's all a matter of power,'" which reported allegations that previous DISD board president Sandy Kress and former trustee Dan Peavy had attempted to rig committees in order to limit the influence of black board members.)