The Ride, Stupid

Instead of calling for riots, just say where you got your car

Sheriff shoots little buddy.

This isn't about due process. Screw due process. This is about integrity. Think of it in terms of the private sector. You're the president of the local small-town savings and loan, and your son-in-law gets arrested late Sunday night out behind the Western Auto doing meth in a brand-new Escalade.

You're not thinking "due process." You're thinking "run on the bank." You run down to the café as fast as you can and run to the round table at the back where all the powers-that-be drink their Monday morning coffee and you start talking as fast as you can about how that son of a bitch has never been behind the counter at your S&L and you never loaned him a dime for nothin' and everybody's welcome to come scour the books.

That's why Miller moved to get rid of Lee. To stop the run. Public confidence in City Hall is already sagging, and her unsuccessful attempt to get rid of Lee will cause the political equivalent of a run on the bank.

Now let's do the racial math. The FBI investigation into fraud and corruption has expanded. Its shadow now falls on all four of the African-American city council members and two black members of the city plan commission. Even black people who are not connected with City Hall tend to be troubled by the specter of a law enforcement action aimed at black officials only.

I do not question their skepticism. But I do offer these observations: The FBI investigation seems to be centered on, if not strictly limited to, the political process by which apartment developers are able to get city council approval for tax credits worth millions of up-front dollars. The particular projects under the microscope are all in black council districts, in large part because the council representatives of those districts sought or supported them. So the pattern is geographic.

The four council members in question--Don Hill, Maxine Thornton-Reese, Leo Chaney and James Fantroy--came on the council more or less together in the late '90s and have always operated as a team, a "class" on the council, originally calling themselves "the black caucus."

So here's the deal: In football, the quarterback can't win the game and the tight end loses. They all handled these tax credits the same way, kind of like a machine. If the FBI or the Justice Department has decided there was something bogus about it, then it's bogus for the whole team.

This team of four, with the exception of Fantroy, is the new face of the old, very conservative element of black leadership in Dallas that goes back to the late Reverend S.M. Wright. Fantroy made his own money, and he walks his own walk. But the rest of them are old-time accommodationists. The bitter irony in their many references to the Civil Rights Movement last week is that this is the element within black Dallas that fought against the movement.

Specifically, these are the people who stood with conservative white leaders in defense of the old white-dominated at-large city council system and in opposition to the single-member system now in place.

You'll never understand these people--you will never get a single word they say--until you know the rules. By their rules, a liberal is a white guy who gives you money. A racist is a white guy who doesn't give you money.

Does that mean black people in Dallas are corrupt beggars? Oh my, in order to believe that you would have to be house-bound and blind. You certainly couldn't have read the terrific series of articles The Dallas Morning News published recently on successful African-American families and the housing boom they are helping fuel in the Dallas suburbs.

There are things about Dallasites that don't go by race, and one of them is that folks here are just not movement types. Black, white or Latino. This is a place where people are very individualistic, family-centered and materialistic. Here, the most important opportunities and motivations tend to be economic. Huge numbers of ambitious black people have gone where a lot of ambitious whites and Latinos have--up and out to the more affluent suburbs.

But here in the city, we are left with people who live in the past--black leaders in Southern Dallas and white business people like the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce. As far as they're concerned, the banjos are a-strummin' and the honeybees a-buzzin'. It's still sleepy time down in the grove, and everybody's happy.

Except the FBI.

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