By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
White businessmen who know southern Dallas well told me story after story of loans they made to small businesses in the southern sector, which went unpaid without the slightest hint of regret, let alone shame. "When you try to collect, you're accused of racism," one said.
But people black and white also talked to me about the unabashed racism with which City Hall has apportioned the basic elements of civilized urban existence—sewers, roads, water, power, police and fire protection—virtually since Reconstruction. If some people in southern Dallas seem to have a culture apart from mainstream values, it's not an accident.
On the other hand, consider the verdict rendered in this case by a racially diverse jury. When I spoke with Ravkind, he talked about jury studies he had done in Dallas 10 years ago when he was representing Lipscomb. He said his research indicated that no black juror in Dallas ever would have voted to convict Al Lipscomb.
Then-Federal District Judge Joe Kendall, acting on his own volition, moved the Lipscomb trial to Amarillo, saying Lipscomb couldn't get a fair trial in Dallas because of heightened media attention. But people close to the trial suspect Kendall was aware of Ravkind's jury research. An appeals court later reversed Lipscomb's conviction based on Kendall's change of venue.
Ravkind said to me last week, "We had done some mock juries [in 1999]—three of them—and we found out that the jurors who were faithful [to Lipscomb], No. 1, were blacks. We never had a mock juror who was black who didn't vote for Al."
I repeated some of this to Jacks, who understood it but thought it might be wisdom from a bygone era. "That's kind of old school," he said. "I think it's noteworthy that this [the City Hall corruption case] was a diverse jury, and they didn't go down that path or didn't appear to."
Maybe Don Hill, who divorced his wife to marry his mistress, was no Al Lipscomb. But Ravkind believed race would have controlled the Lipscomb trial in Dallas no matter what. It did not control the Hill trial in Dallas.
The notion that things could be better, now that we don't have to play the ugly old game forever, is not just airy-fairy. It happens to be the basic business plan of the single biggest economic development that has ever dawned in southern Dallas: The Allen Group's inland port project. The Allen Group's basic modus operandi since coming here from California six years ago has been: Don't play the old game. Play a new game.
Richard Allen, the CEO, bought 6,000 acres in southern Dallas and Dallas County—a far bigger investment than any local investor ever had made south of the river. But he landed in hot water with The Dallas Morning News and the local business elite when he refused to hire a group of expensive black political consultants.
He now says there is still huge economic opportunity in the undeveloped reaches of southern Dallas. "The opportunity is not going away." But he says making it happen will require a culture change south as well as north of the river.
"The power of those that wish to extract a toll, for lack of a better word, is given to them by those that are willing to pay the toll and allow it to go on."
Leslie Jutzi, who up until recently was Allen's chief community liaison, is black, born and raised in Detroit and living now in southern Dallas. She told me last week that her years of fighting entrenched interests in Dallas, far from making her cynical, have made her more optimistic.
"I see the great things that people are doing in southern Dallas County with far fewer resources than others elsewhere," she told me in a note. "I know the amazing stories about the brilliant and honorable children and adults in southern Dallas County that are not reported. I also know of the unwavering support of southern Dallas County by those in North Dallas who never get mentioned during the discussions about the great divide between North and South Dallas."
So maybe this trial, rather than being only a depressing window on the past (which it is), is also a sunny window on a better era ahead. But for that better day to dawn, Dallas needs more people like Allen and Jutzi, those with the moral courage and business savvy not to play the old game. Everyone needs and deserves that.
The white guys who never got their loans paid back deserve it. The black people who went without storm sewers for half a century while Dallas splashed billions of tax dollars into new northern neighborhoods deserve it. Ethical members of the Dallas City Council and citizens who were deprived of honest services by crooked city officials—they all deserve better. But to get better, people have to do better. Dallas has to make that dawn happen.
And if Dallas can't do it or won't do it? Knock-knock, man. Knock-knock-knock.
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