In the controversy over police Chief Terrell Bolton, our first black police chief, we need to keep in mind the danger of riot. The white people in the Bachman Lake area are on a pretty short fuse.
If they ever pop their corks, they will be joined by a lot of black people and Latinos--all of the honest, decent individuals, families, and businesses whose part of town Dallas City Hall has been trying to turn into a corrupt red-light district and open-air drug market for the last 10 years.
Chief Bolton is accused of ordering cops to back off enforcement of the law at a Bachman Lake-area sex club in 1993. Behind this nasty scene, all kinds of axes are being ground, and none of the people accusing the chief deserves to be trusted any more than he does. In fact, if you listen very closely to what his accusers say, you will notice that none of them ever really claims to know anything. Unfortunately, Bolton has responded to the accusations with the kind of full-court stonewall that tends to make the stonewaller look really bad, at least in a public-relations sense.
The owner of the sex club called Caligula was granted immunity by federal prosecutors in the trial of City Councilman Al Lipscomb last year after telling them he had paid Lipscomb a $7,700 bribe.
This is an issue again because a police lieutenant and a former secretary to Bolton have surfaced to accuse Bolton of lying about his role back then in running protection for the sex club. The lieutenant, who admitted meeting with the club owner, told the media at the time of the Lipscomb trial that he couldn't remember who had ordered him to go. Now he remembers.
The attacks on Bolton are being treated as a straight racial issue by black leadership. Their perception is that embittered white cops whom Bolton fired, abetted by The Dallas Morning News, are determined to dig and dig until they find some kind of little legal gotcha on him.
But if you talk to people in the neighborhood where city officials have been running an unofficial red-light district for the last 10 years, their hatred of City Hall is very multiracial. They think Bolton is a crook, if not in the legal sense of the word then certainly in the ticked-off moral and political sense; they think the mayor is one of those, too; and they think the rich white North Dallas council members who have refused to help them are just weasels. The process by which their neighborhood is being devastated, they sincerely believe, is a conspiracy of ruthless underworld sleazeballs, white power-wielders with no respect for urban neighborhoods, and an Uncle Tom black leadership that thinks progress is getting a better price for its votes.
The most radical stuff, however, comes from Bolton himself. Bolton told The Dallas Morning News last week he was concerned that continued investigation of him might cause a race riot. City Councilman Don Hill didn't go that far, but he did tell the News he was going to organize "large rallies" in Bolton's defense.
Bolton and Hill know exactly what they're doing when they talk about race riots and rallies, of course. Dallas has always been the North American Capital of Scared-Silly White Folks. Instead of those phony horned-cow sculptures they have downtown by City Hall--like this was ever a cowboy town--the city should be represented instead by a gigantic 10-story white plastic statue of Don Knotts having a heart attack in a seersucker suit.
For as long as anyone can remember, a black person only had to say "Boo!" in this town, let alone "riot" or "rally," and several hundred more palefaces would break into a squealing gallop for the Park Cities.
On the one hand, it's just what racist white people deserve. The threat of riot plays perfectly into their inchoate fear of black people and their dunderhead preconceptions of how black people think. On the other hand, the threat of riot in Dallas is so pathetically empty. Doesn't anybody ever notice that?
Black leadership here just hasn't conducted itself in a way that would give it that kind of political juice on the street. The great social cataclysms of history, after all, are not often inspired by walking-around money.
Example: The black community of Dallas suffered one of its most difficult tests in memory last year when Lipscomb was convicted on 65 federal counts of conspiracy and bribery. Long before the trial took place, black leadership went around to all the usual white scaredy-cats downtown and threatened them with the End Times if they didn't find some way to call the feds off Al.
Never happened. The scaredy-cats tried to get the feds to cave but couldn't. The very biggest demonstration anybody was able to muster for Lipscomb was 100 people, mainly gray-beards and ladies in high heels, good people all, the kind of solid blue-collar and middle-class crowd you'd love to run into if you were selling long-term care insurance.
On the other hand, I have been talking all week to people in the Bachman Lake area, and those people sound genuinely scary. If the thought of white people rioting makes you giggle, let me point out a couple of things: The homeowners in the Bachman Lake area are not all white. They are diverse. They're all kinds of people, ethnically speaking.
And the one kind of person you really don't want to see go ballistic is a smart middle-class dude who knows where to aim.
One of the angriest and most disillusioned people I spoke with was Randy Staff, who is a CPA, a former partner in one of the big international accounting firms, current owner of American Bank on Northwest Highway, and husband of the president of the Dallas school board. I hope he's still the husband of the president of the school board after this column runs (I get the feeling that their views on City Hall are sometimes quite divergent).
But let me tell you: Staff is a very angry man. Staff believes one possible explanation for the city's refusal to help the Bachman Lake area is corruption at the top. Staff doesn't accuse Bolton of criminal corruption, but he is disappointed that Bolton isn't, in his view, more obviously on the side of the law. "Bolton and I had a big blowup, because the police were just not enforcing the ordinances," he says.
Staff is willing to spread the blame around. He believes that his city council member, John Loza, is cozy with the sex club owners and has completely sold the neighborhood down the river--"gone to the dark side," as he puts it.
But the person on whom Staff and others in that part of town heap their most bitter scorn is Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk. They are furious that Kirk has said he does not want an investigation of Bolton and, by inference, of sex club corruption in the police department.
So committed to rescuing his part of town is Staff that he traveled to New York a couple of years ago and spoke with Mayor Rudy Giuliani and top staff members about the campaign to clean up Times Square. "Everybody agreed," he says. "To do anything, you have to have the mayor 100 percent committed. He has to say, 'I want this stuff closed, and I want it closed down now!'"
Instead, Mayor Kirk has dithered and dallied and taken so many positions on the sex clubs that his detractors in the Bachman Lake area are asking pointed questions about who's got what on whom. Neighborhood activist Tim Dickey said to me, "I want to know who's been compromised. Who's taking money? Who do they have pictures of?"
Dickey, like many of his neighbors, is ready to completely lose his cool if the city doesn't answer the main question about the sex club meeting eight years ago: Who ordered it?
Dallas police Lt. John Sullivan is the one who attended it. He said at the time he didn't remember who told him to go. Now, he says it was Bolton. If Sullivan were a witness in court, I'm sure the lawyers on the other side would point out to the jury that he has already told a falsehood at least once. (Neither Bolton, who was traveling last week, nor Sullivan could be reached for comment.)
What he is saying now, according to a Brett Shipp story on WFAA-Channel 8, is that Bolton told him to go. But a law enforcement friend, speaking to me on background, pointed out that Sullivan did not exactly say on television that Bolton had told him to lay off enforcement. What Sullivan actually claims is that Bolton told him to make sure any cops going into the sex club to enforce the law were accompanied by supervisors.
First of all, it's not at all unusual for patrol officers to have field supervisors go with them on patrol. And second, the perennial accusation that sex club owners lodge against police is that young male cops go into the clubs to feel up the prostitutes. In every venue in America today, whether it's law enforcement or car sales, any complaint with overtones of sexual misbehavior is going to cause management to get cautious.
So there is a reasonable way to interpret everything Bolton might have done, except for two things: People in the neighborhood insist that enforcement really did stop at the clubs after Lipscomb took his bribe. And by denying that he ever spoke to his subordinates about the clubs after talking to Lipscomb, Bolton took a line that protected Lipscomb.
Dickey, the Bachman activist, isn't ready to assume that the charges against Bolton are true. But he is just about ready to take to the streets if the mayor gets away with saying it's not worth even trying to find out.
"Then all bets are off," he says. "Then good people start going into the streets and breaking the law, because that's just what's left. Civil disobedience. We've done it by the book so far, and every time we get shafted. There's a point at which all the wheels come off, and it will be their fault."
Personally? I don't think they're kidding.