Demon Possession or Just Good Thinking, the News' Segregation Editorial Was a Good Thing

Yesterday The Dallas Morning News carried a really tough, plain-talking editorial condemning City Hall policies that have produced deliberate racial segregation in Dallas. It was the kind of editorial that should be applauded and really doesn't deserve to be nitpicked. But when did that ever stop me?

In a clear and unfamiliar voice (demon possession?), the paper's editorial page did not quibble one iota with findings of a recently released four-year federal investigation:

"City Hall must cease and desist," it said, "from discriminatory practices and find ways to eliminate, rather than reinforce, pockets of poverty dominated by racial minorities."

The editorial page even went on to say that if Dallas can't mend its ways it deserves whatever consequences may lie ahead. "Dallas officials must reverse this pattern or prepare for a well-justified punishment."

Wow. Look. The Dallas Morning News just doesn't say stuff like that. Ask any old person. That's why I say this editorial either reflects a major turnaround somewhere within the hierarchy at the paper, or it's demons. And who cares? This is something City Hall really really needed to hear: The News is telling them, "Guess what guys. We do not got your back on this." That message will resonate in the halls of insider influence.

In yet another of my own uncanny prognostications, I predicted recently that the city's only daily would never take on this issue directly because of its own institutional complicity in the downtown redevelopment policies at the center of the scathing report by the U.S. Department of Housing and urban Development (HUD). I'm telling you, I'm bulletproof on these predictions. Just bet the other way.

But did I mention possible nitpicking? Oh, yes, and in fact I see this as a bit more than a nit. Some of the rationale offered in the News editorial felt to me like an echo of many heartfelt, well-stated, wonderfully emotive, totally wrong comments we have seen here on Unfair Park on this same topic -- namely that whatever racial segregation HUD may have found in Dallas is an unfortunate but unintended echo of inevitable divisions of class and income level.

No. If that were the case, there would be no HUD report. Listen. If anything, HUD has a long ignominious history of running in the opposite direction from these kinds of complaints. And that's sort of understandable, if not noble, given the brutal political blow-back against any and all attempts to achieve true racial desegregation of housing in our nation. For a great national summary of that sordid story, see ProPublica's series last year by Nikole Hannah-Jones, "Living Apart: How the government betrayed a landmark civil rights law."

The HUD investigation of Dallas only happened because two Dallas real estate developers, outraged over what they said was pressure from Dallas City Hall to break the law on use of federal desegregation money, carried out their own private investigation first, before HUD. That 15-month, very expensive investigation produced evidence that was, in Godfather terms, a deal HUD couldn't refuse.

In particular, a detailed analysis of segregation in Dallas, which you will find below, by one of the nation's top experts, showed two things: 1) Segregation by race in Dallas is worse than and does not conform to levels of segregation by income and class, and 2) in spite of that, segregation in Dallas was declining of its own accord until Dallas City Hall embarked on a kind of segregation spree a decade ago.

The study by Andrew A. Beveridge of City University of New York found that segregation of blacks from non-Hispanic whites in Dallas is significantly worse than segregation by income alone. In fact, affluent blacks are more segregated from affluent whites than the overall level of segregation between blacks and whites of all income levels. In other words, the richer you get, if you're black, the more segregated is the neighborhood you're likely to live in.

The Beveridge report and other evidence presented by developers Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie are related to an important corollary issue in the ongoing federal court litigation on these charges. That question is whether or not Lockey and MacKenzie can qualify as the whistle-blowers who brought all of this to the attention of the federal government. If they meet that bar, then they can claim a lucrative financial reward under laws governing fraud against the government.

But it's a high bar. The rules may be more legally technical than what a humble nitpicker should presume to explain here. The judge over the case on the Dallas federal bench has ruled twice that the pair do not meet the requirements, arguing there were plenty of other ways for the federal government to figure out it was getting diddled by Dallas.

So let me go at it the humble nitpicker way, instead of legal technical. Based on the evidence of my own eyes and longer experience than I wish to reveal covering issues of government and race, I can say this without any equivocation: HUD was never going to shuffle its feet on this issue -- ever -- until Lockey and MacKenzie lit the agency's shoes on fire. And everybody involved, from the federal judge to the editorial page to City Hall, knows that.

In real-world terms, the argument that HUD could have figured it out from myriad other sources is absurd, a seamy inside joke, because HUD didn't want to figure it out. I don't know if that fact has any bearing at all on whistle-blower law -- probably doesn't -- but it has a big bearing on the social and moral reality here.

Nobody ever does what Lockey and MacKenzie did. Nobody ever bucks the sleazy deal. They keep their mouths shut even if they get screwed, because they know they'll never get another deal if they bitch.

In fact the HUD report states clearly that HUD only began to look into the Dallas fraud allegations because of the information Lockey and MacKenzie brought to the agency. This may be unfair of me (heaven forfend), but I can even read that part of the report as saying, "Hey, don't blame us. Lockey and MacKenzie made us do it."

What the judge in this case is really prescribing is more of the same rule of omerta that has always prevailed. When he says there were lots of ways for HUD to find out Dallas was misusing hundreds of millions in federal funds, he's giving us a nudge-nudge wink-wink. Yeah, everybody knew. Yeah, everybody saw it. But the point is, nobody squawked. Ever. Everybody went along to get along. Until Lockey and MacKenzie made it impossible for HUD to ignore the evidence they had amassed, this massive, deeply corrosive corruption was never going to be acknowledged by anyone. Maybe that's not whistle-blowing under the law, but if it's not, what is?

So, I'm a bit far afield from where I started. I think I started out wanting to get to something about the News editorial page doing a good turn for the city by taking a brave stance on a very tough issue. But darn it, look at the time, will you? And I haven't let my wife's chickens out yet as I promised before she left. So I'll have to get back to you on that. Pluck-pluck.

Beveridge Report by Schutze

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze