We accept the murder of children here. We allow it. We expect it. We are unwilling to make any of the serious sacrifices necessary to save these lives. Calling these deaths random or senseless is a lie.
In six weeks, three children have been shot to death in two incidents at Roseland Homes, an apartment complex owned and managed by the city. In response, preachers have called for peace and columnists have written weepy odes to innocence lost (in this case, more accurately, innocence shot).
In June a woman was shot to death at a car wash on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the first murder there during the 26 years that the business has been owned by Freddy Davenport and his son Dale, who in all that time have never incurred so much as a trash ticket or building code violation. The response to that one killing was a hue and cry from elected officials and the city’s only daily newspaper so intense that it resulted in the permanent closing of the business.
Their detractors painted the Davenports as villains wholly responsible for the high crime rate in the neighborhood surrounding their business. This contention was made even after the city’s own study found the car wash to be an island of relative law and order in a sea of social dysfunction and violence, a report that a Dallas judge refused to admit into evidence.
No one — certainly not the city, not The Dallas Morning News, not the preachers praying for peace and not the judges — has suggested a forced shutdown of Roseland Homes or of the Dallas Housing Authority. The DHA operates under a board of five commissioners appointed by the mayor of Dallas. They are Jorge Baldor, Jim Garner, Deborah Culberson, Theresa Flores and Reginald Gray.
No one has labeled Baldor, Garner, Culberson, Flores or Gray a villain for the mayhem and loss of life under their watch. In their case, the preachers only pray for peace and the columnists only weep. Weigh the sheer hypocrisy and fecklessness of that.
The car wash is a relatively large property located at ground zero in a surge of real estate speculation. There, crime is being used as a public pretext to force a change of ownership, something the city tried and failed to accomplish several years ago through eminent domain.
The Davenports are business people. At Roseland Homes, where crime is arguably far worse than it has ever been at the Davenport’s car wash, public officials have a positive duty, a charge and a responsibility to provide security — at least enough so that a 9-year-old child can sit safely in her own home without being shot to death.
The DHA commissioners, appointees of the mayor, have failed utterly in their responsibility to protect the children of Roseland Homes. And yet we hear not one word about their abject failure from the mayor or the daily newspaper or the preachers praying for peace. No one calls for their heads or even calls them villains.
Instead, the assumption and expectation is that they probably are doing their best in a basically hopeless situation. That assumption of hopelessness is the real bullet, the true cause, because we imagine it lets us off the hook somehow.
But it would be trivial to assume that the ultimate fault here lies only with officials and editorial writers. No, the fault plunges way deeper into the city than that.
Look no further than the situation surrounding the sudden appearance in Dallas two months ago of large numbers of Texas Department of Public Safety troopers. The state troopers showed up because the Dallas chief of police asked the governor to send them. The chief asked for the troopers because City Hall has been unable or unwilling to provide her with the resources she needs to combat a surge in violent crime.
At the chief’s specific request, the deployment of state troopers was focused narrowly on the area near the car wash, where community leaders had been complaining vociferously about crime. As soon as they got here, the troopers began writing thousands and thousands of warnings for motorists in that area who were operating their vehicles illegally. The troopers also made hundreds of arrests and seized a significant number of illegal firearms.
Barely weeks after complaining about crime at the car wash, the same community leaders accused the state troopers of racial profiling because they were writing warnings and making arrests in a minority neighborhood. The chief of police went into hiding, which is another story. The daily newspaper bit its tongue.
The ability of the state troopers to find thousands of illegal drivers so quickly in so small an area is a window on what has gone before. We might ask ourselves: If that many people were driving around without valid driver's licenses or tags, without proper insurance or vehicle inspection, why hadn’t Dallas police found them long ago?
That’s easy. Dallas police don’t find that kind of violation in poor minority neighborhoods in Dallas — they never have — because they are not allowed to. It’s not part of the deal. In fat times and thin, we never have equipped, manned or commanded the police department to carry out that kind of resource-intensive initiative. We might wonder why.
That kind of tough intensive policing is always going to be disruptive. It’s going to disrupt neighborhoods. It’s going to disrupt reelection campaigns and Chamber of Commerce booster campaigns.
Getting serious about crime would require City Hall to stop offshoring its own core responsibilities onto hapless business owners. Instead of treating the owners of a car wash or a gas station as a kind of human sacrifice — burning them on an altar to ward off the demons of public opinion — what if City Hall treated them with respect?
I would argue City Hall ought to go to small business owners on tough streets and say, “Thank you for creating a successful enterprise in this challenging environment. Thank you for paying taxes and employing people. What can we do to help make things better for you here?”
Instead, the city torches them, because that’s what is easy. That’s the approach that takes no skin off anyone’s nose at City Hall. It is the path of least resistance, the path of no sacrifice.
There are sacrifices we citizens would have to make to stop the murder of the next child and the next child and the child after that. If we truly wanted to accomplish change on the street, we would have to sacrifice some of what we have come to believe, perhaps dubiously, are our rights and liberties.
I’m not even sure where we first got the idea that there is a right to physically defy a cop. I don’t think there is such a right, because I don’t understand how there could be such a right. Especially in a country flooded with guns, we don’t send cops out onto the street to debate with people. The cops can’t know who has a gun and who doesn’t.
When someone defies them, especially if the defiance is expressed in any physically active way, even running, the cops have to assume the worst. They have to assume the guy’s got a gun; he’s running to get clear; he’s going to whip around, go into a shooting stance and try to kill them.
If we truly intend to do anything meaningful about gun violence and the wholesale murder of children in our midst, then we must sacrifice and surrender all of that. We must give up what we think is our right to defy and our right to run. And if we defy and run while we have an illegal firearm on our person, then we must give up the right to live.
No? Is that too much? Is it too much to expect? Is this where we surrender ourselves to resignation and acceptance of the way it is and always has been? OK, then that means the way it has been is the way it must be.
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We can maintain the status quo in our community by continuing to accept a level of lawlessness and violence. We can use crime as an excuse to pull off real estate capers while we resist meaningful law enforcement. We can blame crime on people who have no real responsibility for it and no ability to do a damned thing about it. In the next breath we can give people carte blanche dispensation when they have massively failed to carry out their own clear public responsibilities.
Maybe we will even insist that a young man must have the right to get into the street with an illegal gun in his waistband, give the cops some grief, defy them, maybe even jump around a little. Maybe the right to carry an illegal gun and defy the cops is so important that we just can’t give it up.
Of course, in refusing to sacrifice anything, we will try to cover ourselves with prayer. We will weep. We will use the word, senseless, at least a million times so that we won’t have to make the all too obvious sense of things.
We will commit all of these selfish acts in the name of keeping something that we will insist on calling the peace. And maybe it will be the peace, if by peace we mean the path that least obligates us to act. But if we’re going to go that route, we will need to be honest with ourselves. The prayers can’t change one thing: This peace will always be bought with the blood of children.