Go on, Oppress Me

Is racial profiling less serious when the police chief is black?

Mainly, Price made it plain he doesn't want to do anything to box in Bolton or cut him short of political breathing space. "This man has been there one year!" he said several times. "Give me a break."

Price insisted that racial profiling is an important issue for him, at least in theory. But he also said he doesn't see clear evidence of any kind of racial profiling crisis in Dallas, and therefore, he doesn't think people should be beating up on Bolton.

"I'm not willing to take him and grab him by the neck and say, 'You gotta do something on racial profiling tomorrow.' I'm not saying it doesn't exist. But I'm not going to harp on it, because I haven't seen a spike in internal affairs cases that would say it's there. And I'm not getting the calls. This phone used to ring off the wall with complaints about things like this, and it just isn't happening now."

In carefully chosen words, City Councilman James Fantroy says he's not necessarily going along with the rest of elected black leadership on the racial-profiling issue.
Mark Graham
In carefully chosen words, City Councilman James Fantroy says he's not necessarily going along with the rest of elected black leadership on the racial-profiling issue.

Price says he won't get excited about racial profiling until somebody shows him numbers that prove it exists. In the meantime, he supports the chief. The chief, meanwhile, says he's not going to provide any numbers. Therefore, the circle would seem to be closed.

But not quite. Not all black leaders agree. James Fantroy, the councilman from District 8 in southern Dallas, was very careful when he spoke to me not to criticize the police chief. But Fantroy is particularly upset about the Leonard Mitchell case, and he made it plain to me that he intends to get answers on this case and numbers for all similar cases from the police chief.

"I feel that there's a possibility that Mr. Mitchell was misused. I am asking the IAD [Dallas police Internal Affairs Division] to get down and really investigate what happened that night."

Fantroy indicated that he will seek a city council vote demanding that the police department pony up the numbers on racial profiling. If he does, it will create a very interesting showdown among black leaders.

"Today, we have got one of the best police departments in this country," Fantroy said. "My concern, and all I am saying, is that we may have a few bad apples, and we want to clear them out. Before you can do anything about a problem, you have to admit that you have a problem."

There are at least two ways to view the complicated protectiveness that black leaders feel toward Bolton on this issue. One is to say black leaders are hypocrites. They used to jump all over this kind of issue back when the police chiefs and the mayors were all white. Now, in order to protect the career of one of their own, they are willing to equivocate on basic constitutional rights.

This argument contains at least a measure of obvious truth. I said to Commissioner Price, "Fifteen years ago, you wouldn't have needed numbers."

He agreed. But he said, "That was 15 years ago. The issue was access."

And that remark brings us to the other view, which involves the fact that now there is access, and there is diversity among the power-sharers. And things look genuinely different from the driver's seat. Some of the same black leaders who might have leaped on this issue with an unyielding fury 15 years ago, when they were shut out of power, now have more invested in the system.

From that perspective, everybody starts to look more familiar. Bolton is easy to understand. His position on racial profiling is neither black nor white. It's blue. He's a typical career cop, for whom the paramount issue is protecting the blue kingdom from civilian control.

For the others, the issues are painfully mixed. They want the city's first black police chief to succeed. They know that racial profiling may occur, to some extent. But they see a greater value in the gradual consolidation of power than in going to war over individual rights.

Of course, try selling that to Leonard Mitchell or Donato Garcia. I don't think either one of them is going to be too thrilled to hear that they need to forget about their head-knocks and nights in jail on false charges in order to serve the greater good.

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