Dallas Protests Are as Much About Old Scars as They Are New Ones

First responders closed off multiple streets as Saturday night's protests progressed in downtown Dallas, Deep Ellum and Uptown.EXPAND
First responders closed off multiple streets as Saturday night's protests progressed in downtown Dallas, Deep Ellum and Uptown.
Taylor Adams
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The catalyst for the last four days' protests in Dallas is new, if horrifyingly familiar. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauven allegedly murdered George Floyd, a black man, last month by kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes. People in Dallas and around the world are angry.

“I’m just enraged inside,” 25-year-old Irving resident Dani Smith told the Observer's Garrett Gravley on Friday night. “[People] don’t understand the struggles of being a kid in elementary school and being criticized for your hair … of working at a fast food restaurant and customers not wanting you to take their order because you’re black.”

As Dallas police have continued clashing with demonstrators, local organizers have emphasized that marches are about more than just rage. They're also about the open wounds that have marked the city over the last half-decade.

In the aftermath of the murder of five Dallas police officers on July 7, 2016, a renewed push began to strengthen civilian oversight of Dallas police. After off-duty officer Amber Guyger murdered Botham Jean, calls to reform the board grew even louder.

The city's Citizen Review Board was essentially toothless before April 2019, when the Dallas City Council approved plans for the board to monitor internal police investigations and created a new job at City Hall for a monitor who serves is a go-between for the board and DPD.

Supporters did not get two of things it wanted most for the board: subpoena power and a mandate to conduct its own investigations into alleged misconduct by police. Monday, those priorities were back on activists' minds.

"You can't have a police oversight board without any power," longtime Dallas community organizer Carlos Quintanilla said. "It's like going into battle without any armory."

Even in its limited state, the oversight board hasn't met in months, thanks to Dallas' COVID-19 emergency declaration, which stopped all board and commission hearings. It's been placed back on the schedule, however, and will reconvene June 8.

After Guyger killed Jean, Mike Mata, the president of the Dallas Police Association, became a focus of those who want police reform in Dallas. They viewed his actions assisting Guyger as cause for his being fired from the department.

During Guyger's trial, DPD Sgt. Breanna Valentine said that Mata, her superior officer by virtue of service time, told her to turn off the in-car camera system that was filming Guyger as she sat in a police cruiser after murdering Jean in his apartment. Mata's actions, Valentine said, went against DPD policy.

After the trial, Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall announced an investigation into Mata's conduct — one that Mata said he welcomed. Mata is still employed by DPD and still the president of the police association. Dominique Alexander, the founder of the Next Generation Action Network and the primary organizer of protests on Friday and Monday, said that the problem with Mata hasn't gone away in the months since a Dallas County jury sent Guyger to prison.

"You thought we just went away? COVID saved y'all. That's what happened," Alexander said. "We want real change."

Alexander called on Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson to call a special City Council meeting to consider demonstrators' demands.

On Sunday, after two days of protests, tear gas and pepper balls, Hall took the stage at DPD headquarters and blamed, in part, outsiders for all that had happened.

"The individuals that we're making arrests of, a large number of them are not members or residents of the city of Dallas," the chief said. "These individuals do not have the love or respect for the city of Dallas that we have."

DPD gave the Observer a working list of 60 people arrested during the protests by DPD Monday. All but one of the names on the list are reported to be homeless or from Texas, and at least 40, no matter now one slices up North Texas, are from DFW.

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