I'm not talking about people getting mad and acting up over an issue. Everybody does that. Human nature. I've tossed off a few catcalls of my own when things weren't going my way in a meeting. No, no, that's not it. I'm talking about people who don't even know how a public meeting works.
Last week a large crowd of white people came down to City Hall in support of a special city police force for the "Preston Hollow North" area, bounded by Preston, Royal, Hillcrest and Walnut Hill streets, in Councilman Mitchell Rasansky's district. The ones against it got to talk, and then the ones in favor had their chance. Then it was sit-down-and-shut-up time.
You know? It's like court. In court you don't bounce up off your bench seat in the back and tell the judge what to do. You don't get to do that at a city council meeting, either. The people who are members of the council get to talk, because they ran for office, and there was an election, and the votes were counted, and they won.
One guy in a starched blue shirt stood up when he heard something he disagreed with and just marched up to the front of the room to tell the council off. When they ignored him and continued their debate, he stood there glaring at them and tapping on his watch, as if he thought they were the ones who had to shut up.
No, you. You shut up. And sit your big ass back down. You can't talk, buddy, because this is a city council meeting, and you ain't on the council.
Then we had the arm wavers. Several women moved to seats right up by the rail and sat there waving their arms while the council debated, as if they thought somebody needed to call on them. You know, like, "Teacher! Hey, teacher! I have something I want to tell you. Hey, teacher!"
I'd like to know where they went to high school. Kids in my school got kicked out of class for that. And not to be catty, but I might mention some decades have passed since most of these ladies were in high school.
They must sit in church and pull that stuff: "Hey, waaaait a minute! HE never said, 'Blessed are you who are poor.' C'mon. Can you prove that?"
You have to hope a crowd like that never breaks into the Merlot supply. Scary.
I should probably say that the people opposed to the Preston Hollow issue behaved pretty well. It was the proponents who were exhibiting extreme hyperactivity and "acting out" behavior, as they call it in the schools. I know they had to wait a while for their issue to come up on the agenda. Maybe their Ritalin was running low. But I suspect their behavior also expressed a certain sense of entitlement, which actually gets us to the issue itself.
The people from Preston Hollow North want permission to set up a special police force just for their neighborhood, manned by city of Dallas cops but paid for with a special tax they would impose only on their own neighborhood. The arrangement for collecting this special tax is called a "Public Improvement District" or PID.
The basic idea is that it's OK for this one area to have a higher level of police protection, if this one area is willing to pay for it. It's sort of like plague villages in the 17th century: They said, "We can't do anything about the plague, but we can sure build a wall and a moat around ourselves and pull up the drawbridge if we feel like it."
From what I saw at the council last week, many people in the Preston Hollow North neighborhood understand exactly what is wrong with this kind of thinking. One of the opponents, John Tiholiz, told the council that the PID plan "may be good for Preston Hollow, but it isn't good for our city. And it's not good public policy.
"The citizens of our community want more police protection from the Dallas Police Department," Tiholiz said. "Let's have it for everybody, not just for those of us in affluent neighborhoods who can pay for it. This proposal is divisive, and it encourages people to vote for their own narrow self-interests rather than the overall good of our city."
I might almost be able to excuse the thinking behind things like the Preston Hollow North PID, if I hadn't seen the attitude. Maybe we give them an inch and say it's understandable for people to feel frustration and even fear in a context of apparent government failure all around them. But then I put that thinking together with the arrogance of manner and the obvious lack of experience in the ways of democratic governance. And I think I get the picture.