Dear Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall:
You and I have an issue in common, but I get the sense that you may not have gone through the difficult and deeply personal process of dealing with yours yet. We’re both from Detroit, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.
Chief Hall, you and I are both Yankees. We were taught from birth that all white people who have Southern accents are racists. That’s not true, but it’s an extremely difficult bias to kick.
I wish there were some kind of 12-step program we could join where we would stand up and say, “Hi, I’m Jim, and I’m a Yankee.” But there is no such program. People like you and me, we have to overcome the Yankee thing cold turkey, mainly by being here and keeping our eyes and ears open for about 20 years.
I see that Jamie Thompson, who is fast becoming my favorite cop reporter ever, has a long profile of you online in D Magazine . She’s the one who wrote that crackerjack feature in February for The Dallas Morning News on the July 7, 2016, massacre of police officers in downtown Dallas.
She obviously put in some serious time with you for this profile in D. Her work is thorough and insightful. Here is the part, however, that set my Yankee teeth on edge. Thompson writes:
"Hall believes her predecessor, David Brown, who is black, also was treated poorly by the media. So was former chief Terrell Bolton, also black. But she thought former chief David Kunkle, who is white, was treated well. 'I don’t believe Kunkle got the kind of media coverage that I’m getting. Brown did. Bolton did. And we’re all black,' Hall said."
Let’s start at the top with your most recent predecessor, Brown. Brown struggled with the same challenges you face in the post now — a serious staffing shortage and an even more serious determination on the part of the City Council not to raise taxes to hire more cops.
Brown was generally beloved by the local business oligarchy — all the old white people you and I were raised to believe are sons and daughters of that colonel in the chicken ads — because he tried to resolve his person-power shortages by putting desk cops and plainclothes officers back into uniform and onto the streets.
He was very soundly roasted for that. But the people who led the charge calling for his dismissal were the members of the National Black Police Officers Association. They’re the ones who said, “The Dallas Police Department is broken, and this starts at the top.”
There was also strong criticism of Brown from activists working on cases in which police are accused of wrongfully shooting people. That’s an ongoing issue here, and the accusation has everything to do with race. But you and I, as Yankees, share a little Yankee secret about that one, do we not?
I covered cops in Detroit when you were in grammar school, but I have to think you heard the stories from that era. A white establishment, still terrified by the 1967 riot/uprising, hired a police force in Detroit that was more than 90 percent white, mostly young men who lived out in the boondocks towns in Oakland and Washtenaw County.
Those cops were scared to death of black people, especially black men, and they thought their job was to protect all white people from all black people. That was an era of terrible abuse, and — 12-step lesson here — all of the people involved, white and black, were Yankees.
Let’s move back to the white chief you mention in the D piece, Kunkle. Kunkle grew up in a nonaffluent single-parent (mother) home. He came to police work with a deep sense of service and a real respect for all people who face social and economic challenge.
He was a pioneer in community policing. He insisted, as Brown did again later, that more cops get out on the streets and get to know the community, for which he was lambasted by the unions.
But let’s get to the matter of how Kunkle was treated by the media. I don’t know who told you we treated him kindly, but it must have been somebody who reads only comic books. Kunkle came in for almost as much media horsewhipping as his predecessor, Bolton, whom we will discuss in a moment.
It fell to Kunkle, on very direct orders from the city manager, to oversee a complete revision of the way the police department reported crime. I always saw him as jammed between an unprincipled city manager (not the current person, obviously) and his keen knowledge of statistics and the truth. Then the police unions got into the middle of it, too.
If it had been up to the city manager, Kunkle would have told the council once a year that not a single criminal act had occurred in Dallas in the previous 12 months and that the only people who said there was crime in Dallas were Yankees. On the other hand, there were legitimate anomalies and inconsistencies among local crime reporting, FBI reporting, state reporting and other systems, some of which may have made us look worse than we were, so there were things to fix.
The Dallas Morning News and WFAA-TV (Channel 8) went after Kunkle hard. In 2010, Tanya Eiserer and Steve Thompson at the News won the Texas Bar Association Gavel Award for their investigative series exposing inconsistencies in Kunkle’s system.
Eiserer, by the way, preserved her credentials as an equal-opportunity … um, person … by later shouting at Brown that he was a “cocksucker” and an “asshole,” which I sort of consider to be Yankee terms. She’s on Channel 8 now. If you see her, Chief Hall, give special attention to that accent.
But, oh man, the grief Kunkle caught from the media for his statistical reform was nothing next to what we gave him for being married too many times and for riding a motor scooter in his off-time.
One thing I found truly disconcerting about the merciless marital jibes from the media: The most frequent criticism of him on that score that I heard from my fellow reporters was that in his last and, I believe, final marriage, Kunkle married a reporter. It was as if that fact alone should have gotten him fired.
What does that say about our profession? She’s a high-powered lobbyist now, so she was way smarter and more together than most of us, anyway.
Lastly, we turn to Kunkle’s predecessor, Bolton, whom, you say, Chief Hall, was treated unfairly because he was black. I suspect that you are very unfamiliar with the history here.
I don’t want to go back over it in too much detail because it’s just too painful. You must be aware that after Bolton was fired here, he also was fired from his subsequent post as chief of police (not sheriff) in DeKalb County, Georgia.
Let’s just say there was a certain undeniable pattern. On a subsequent visit back to Dallas, for example, Bolton insisted he had been targeted for attack by a band of roving motorcycle trick-riders on a Dallas expressway.
In 2010, Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd opened what I think was her attempt at a positive column about Bolton thusly:
"I had a catch-up conversation with Terrell Bolton this week. It left me with a dizzy sense of having fallen down a rabbit hole, into a strange and crazy land where every journey ends in a smoking train wreck and every human interaction leads to a lawsuit."
You catch the drift.
In Thompson’s profile of you, the most interesting passages had nothing to do with past Dallas chiefs of police, you or me being Yankees (I wasn’t even mentioned, unbelievably) — not any of that stuff. Here is the good part: She quotes you addressing a gathering at the Potter’s House, the megachurch pastored by Bishop T.D. Jakes. She says you told the crowd:
“Because if we’re going to have a real conversation here, let’s have a real conversation. The largest amount of crime comes out of our minority communities. So when we encounter minorities, sometimes our officers have a level of fear.”
In that, I hear the very best that Yankees and people from Detroit, white and black, can offer a city in need like this one. You are speaking from a certain self-confidence that comes from your success in a role once barred to people of your race and gender.
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But you also are speaking, I believe, from your experiences in a city, Detroit, where black people and white people in the business and professional world have achieved a very expensive, hard-fought and hard-earned level of social trust. Your confidence allows you to do some frank tough talking to a black audience here — people unaccustomed to your level of candor.
I also noticed that Jakes pulled the rug out from under you, blaming minority crime and bad police relations on social injustice and what he called, “cesspools of unemployment, no hope, no opportunities.”
Oh, puhleeeze. From Jakes? Talk about a guy famous for being absent from local justice struggles! Jakes typically won’t show up for any event that’s not going to pay him residuals. The only time I heard him speak to a white audience here, his version of social justice was a fervent call for more investment capital for movie projects.
You were the stuff in that scene. Forget about Jakes. You have stuff to teach this city … once you get over the Yankee thing. Not all of it. Most of it. I mean, no, I still won’t eat boiled (see comments) okra. As Yankees, we do have to maintain some dignity.