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Dallas City Council Breaks Down Over Police Violence

A special City Council meeting called Friday night ended with more questions than answers.
A special City Council meeting called Friday night ended with more questions than answers.
Melissa Hennings

More than 200 speakers and three rounds of interrogation of Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall later, and the Dallas City Council exited Friday night's eight-hour, remote meeting with more questions than answers. Hall still can't fully explain what happened on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge Monday night, and the City Council, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and Dallas city staff are fighting over who's at fault for the city's policing crisis.

Starting a little after 2 p.m., the city secretary began calling names. For a minute and a half at a time, or a minute if the speakers weren't from Dallas, activists, the general public and even a few politicians tore into the city's leadership.

They demanded accountability for the more than 600 protesters who were pinned in and detained on the bridge. They demanded the city cut the police department's budget, which accounts, along with the fire department, for about 60% of Dallas' entire budget. They demanded that the Dallas Police Department stop firing tear-gas, smoke and "less-than-lethal" projectiles at anti-police violence protesters.

The City Council responded with some support for limiting next year's police budget — and rancor.

Johnson set the tone for the portion of the meeting in which he and the council participated by grilling Hall. Citing media reports, he pressed the chief on whether or not law enforcement officers told demonstrators not to get on the bridge during Monday's march, whether those officers used tear gas on the marchers and whether DPD used foam or rubber rounds on protesters.

Hall said that, yes, her officers warned protesters not to get on the bridge. They'd fired smoke at protesters, not tear gas, the chief said, for at least the second time this week. Hall couldn't say, however, anything about anything being shot at the protesters. She hadn't been able to review all the evidence, she said.

It seems clear from evidence at the scene that cops or state troopers shot projectiles into the crowd.

As the rest of the council questioned Hall and gave their impressions about the week of protests that's rocked the city, at least two members, Lee Kleinman and Jaime Resendez, expressed support for considering cuts to DPD's budget during the city's next budget season.

Once the council finished its first round speaking, Johnson pushed Hall again, this time about the difference between smoke and tear-gas projectiles. Hall couldn't answer the question. She also left the mayor unsatisfied when he asked her about why DPD didn't stop looting in Deep Ellum Friday night.

As Johnson questioned Hall, Dallas City Manager TC Broadnax tried to jump in and protect his employee, the chief.

"I run this city," Broadnax said at one point, leading Johnson to snap back that it was his job to run and maintain order during the meeting.

Later, Johnson asked that Broadnax and Carolyn King Arnold, who'd compared the treatment Hall received to a "lynching," have their microphones muted.

When council member Adam Bazaldua spoke up over Broadnax being muted, Johnson told him he was out of order.

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"I don't care if I'm out of order," Bazaldua shouted.

Eventually, Broadnax apologized for his spat with the mayor.

For all the back and forth, nothing in the way of concrete proposals for change to DPD emerged from the meeting.

Thursday night, Hall announced a new policy requiring DPD officers to intervene when a colleague's use of physical force is being "inappropriately applied or no longer need to be applied." Broadnax also announced a set of new directives, including a new policy on the release of body cam video from high-profile incidents and a requirement that officers warn a suspect before shooting at them, Friday before the meeting.

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