Craig Watkins: We'll be watching.
Craig Watkins: We'll be watching.
Mark Graham

An Open Letter to Craig Watkins

An open letter to newly elected Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins:

Dear Mr. Watkins:

Give me a minute. A few minutes at most. What can you lose? First of all, congratulations. Everybody says you're the first black district attorney in the history of the county. I'm sure it's true. My only qualification would be that this is a county with a really bad memory for racial things. But we do know you're the first Democrat in the office since 1986, so you made history last Tuesday. Good on you.


Craig Watkins

Next, I think I have to tell you that Tuesday may have been the last good day in your life. Hey, I shouldn't even be telling you this stuff. I should just sit here and let it happen. Let it happen, hell: I will be one of the first to dive in and make it happen, if you let us.

We will pick your bones, man. Use them for toothpicks. And laugh about it. That's how it ends. Think Terrell Bolton, the crying game. And then we will move on to the next story, because we are in the bone-picking business.

Bolton was our first black police chief. His career and a boatload of hopes and dreams went down in flames three years ago because he couldn't get his head on straight. And you show every sign of having yours on a little whomperjawed too. So that's why I'm writing.

What gets to me is that your story could end so differently. You really could usher in a new and better era, not just in the District Attorney's Office but in the whole community. That culture down there of busting people down to some kind of a rap even when everybody knows they're innocent; the whole business of refusing to share files with the defense when the law clearly calls for it; getting all haughty and not admitting any mistakes when the District Attorney's Office is nationally embarrassed by the exoneration of innocent human beings sent to prison for life and death: That's all a bad legacy from a hick-town, Bible-Belt past when people saw law enforcement as an armed force to keep poor people and minorities cowed and in line.

That could all change. You could change it. You could become a great district attorney.

But Mr. Watkins, nobody thinks that's what will happen. Especially here in the media. You know what we think you'll do? Let me run it down for you.

You'll be paranoid as hell and see enemies behind every tree. You will be defensive and never do anything about your personal business, by which I mean the trouble with the IRS and the unpaid debts, all that stuff.

You will draw down into a little bunker of people you think you can trust. You'll get more and more crazy about criticism from within your own circle until finally the only people left around you will be the con men, ass-kissers and crooks. One fine day all of your trusted inner circle will see you backing off over a cliff, and not a one of them will warn you. And then you will be gone.

Just gone.

You have to make a huge effort to see that it doesn't end that way. Please don't hand me that stuff about how all black middle-class people have your tax and debt problems. It's not true. And it wouldn't make any difference if it were true, because not all black middle-class people are the district attorney.

As district attorney you will be held to a higher standard. Don't bother calling it a double standard. It's way worse than that. It's like a triple or quadruple standard. If you walk out in public with a hickey on you, you will be called down. That's not about you. That's about every single person who occupies that office, black, white, Latino or, like they say, good, bad or Republican.

And speaking of walking out in public, I wasn't at your coming-out press conference the day after the election, but I watched clips of it on a Web site. Reporters asked you four times—that I heard—what your plan is for the District Attorney's Office, and every time you referred them to your Web site. You were sullen and defensive about it. It was obvious you don't have a plan and don't have any idea at all what you're going to do.

Are you kidding me? Do you not think we're going to rip you apart for that stuff?

Let me point out something that you may or may not know. Half of those Republicans who just got kicked out inherited their jobs from their daddies and uncles. If they hadn't gone to SMU and been Republican they'd be parking cars for a living right now. The line of white Republican district attorneys who precede you in office does not include any Einsteins. Putting it mildly.

You and your fellow Democrats are coming to this challenge with about the same array of assets and disabilities they had, with one big difference. I suspect most of you have seen life through a somewhat bigger window than the peephole people peek out of from the Park Cities. So that's a plus. You probably know a lot more about a lot more people. There is every reason you could improve on their record.

But you have to try hard to keep yourself open, to keep smart people around you and to listen to them when they criticize you. You have to figure out that we in the press are not your friends, but we're not your enemies, either. Don't give us too much credit. We are fairly simple people. Our job is to hoot and holler and raise a ruckus when the emperor steps out into the street naked. Like you did at your press conference.

I guess it's all good copy for us if you screw up. We'll have lots to write about. But that doesn't mean we want to see it happen. We live here too.

It's better for everybody if you're a success. For that, you have to grow a thicker hide just as fast as you can. You have to clean your own house. Do lots more homework. Please don't mention the Web page again. And finally...

Best of luck. Really. Best of luck to you.


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