Color Code

Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle's honeymoon is about to end, if white, black and Latino officers have anything to say about it


This doesn't seem like the nexis for Southern Dallas racial politics, as some activists would suggest. Nor does it seem like the black devil's lair, as some white officers would surely claim. It is what it is: the small, cluttered church office at Camp Wisdom United Methodist Church in South Oak Cliff, the office of the Reverend L. Charles Stovall.

Stovall opens up two cans of Diet Sprite and begins orating, quietly and calmly, about why it is that so many white officers see him as the enemy, why that's wrong, why he won't stop trying to bring about changes at DPD.

He says his broad coalition of black activists, the Unified Organizations for Justice, came together because of concerns surrounding cases since 1999 of in-custody deaths and suspect fatalities that disproportionately involved blacks or Hispanics and were committed disproportionately by white officers--15 such deaths during the past two-plus years alone, Stovall says, were simply too many. That these problems coincided with the tenure of a black police chief didn't matter, he said. They had to be addressed, and even though members of the black community privately derided the organization for putting heat on Chief Bolton, he says it was the right thing to do.

The Reverend L. Charles Stovall, head of Unified Organizations for Justice, says he's cautiously optimistic that Chief Kunkle will work toward progressive change in the way DPD views policing in Southern Dallas.
Mark Graham
The Reverend L. Charles Stovall, head of Unified Organizations for Justice, says he's cautiously optimistic that Chief Kunkle will work toward progressive change in the way DPD views policing in Southern Dallas.
George Aranda, head of the Latino Peace Officers Association, criticized Kunkle for banning the neck hold.
Mark Graham
George Aranda, head of the Latino Peace Officers Association, criticized Kunkle for banning the neck hold.

As was the first major decision Kunkle made regarding deadly force--banning the LVNR, or neck hold. (He did so after the death of a 300-plus-pound Hispanic suspect who was placed in the LVNR while resisting arrest.) Stovall was quoted in The Dallas Morning News as saying, "This is something that needed to be done, and we are rejoicing." This didn't set well with cops of all colors, but the posts by white cops on the Web site Undergroundcop.com (a closed site where many current and retired officers post reactions to police news) were particularly vicious.

"Kunkle and the Rev. Racist Stovall deserve each other," wrote one. "I can't wait to see South Dallas burn," wrote another.

Asked why a seemingly race-neutral subject such as police tactics can become so racially charged, Stovall picks up the list of in-custody and shooting deaths on his desk and begins reading the disciplinary outcome of these cases after they went to a grand jury.

"Deaths in custody. Ruled suicide, ruled suicide, ruled suicide. Ruled an accident. No-billed. No-billed. No-billed. No-billed. No-billed. No-billed. Ruled an accident. No-billed. Ruled a suicide. No-billed.

"And then the fatalities. No-billed, no-billed, no-billed." He turns the page. "No-billed, no-billed, no-billed, no-billed, no-billed." Turn. "No-billed, no-billed, no-billed." Turn. "No-billed, no-billed, no-billed, no-billed, no-billed." Turn. "No-billed, no-billed, no-billed, no-billed." Turn. "No-billed, has not been scheduled, has not been scheduled."

He puts the list on his desk. "The reason this is about race is because it's the young black and Hispanic men who are dying. It's right there in front of us. We're very clear. We're not supporting the activities of criminals. Arrest them, hold them, take them to jail, try them and if convicted, send them to prison. But you're not there to determine if their lives are valuable."

Stovall and others contend this has everything to do with the way police approach their jobs in South Dallas vs. North Dallas. Officers who work at the police academy say recruits learn early on that it is cushier to work the beats in the "country club" (north central Dallas) than those in the "war zone" (Southern Dallas).

"There are bad cops out there, sure," says a white senior corporal. "But the day-to-day job of a police officer is to take people to jail who don't want to go. Sometimes that gets violent, and violence isn't pretty. There will be controversy when that happens."

This squares with some officers' view that they are not part of a community service organization, as most modern departments see themselves, but are instead part of a "paramilitary organization," as some white officers describe it.

That Kunkle met at all with Stovall upsets officers who believe any decision that mirrors the desires of community activists is anti-cop. Any happiness from Stovall is seen as defeat.

Which is nonsense, according to Kunkle. "In police-community relations, I don't think it has to be police on this side, community on this side. When I talk to people in some African-American communities, they want to have good relationships with the police more so than some communities that are not as beset by violent crime and drugs. So there is an environment where officers have to use the correct tactics and interact well with the community so they can get the benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong. It's not a case of one side wins, one side loses."

Stovall says he believes Kunkle wants DPD to be a department that is sensitive to their concerns, one that works to build trust with Southern Dallas. "I'm cautiously optimistic," he says. "You have to have a chief that listens to the needs of the community. We haven't always had that. And I don't see why everyone doesn't want that."


The travails of Deputy Chief Zackary Belton are indicative of the race-scoring game played by DPD officers. Belton was promoted to deputy chief by Terrell Bolton at the same time he demoted several other deputy chiefs (which ended up costing the city more than $5 million in lawsuit settlements). Belton, who is black, was placed over the Crimes Against Persons Division, one of the plum assignments on the police force.
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