Reflecting on the Dallas Police Ambush While Outside of Dallas

Lake Tahoe

I left Dallas last Thursday morning, a beautiful, hot, sunny day, to land in Reno, Nevada for a long weekend of R&R with my family. My son lives in Silicon Valley and Lake Tahoe is about a four-hour drive for them.

We arrived before noon, the western fam arrived at about 5 due to a shut-down on Interstate 80. We put the phones away, got the baby to bed, and were just settling down for a relaxing dinner. My son (who checks his phone probably more often than I do) said, “there has been a police shooting in Dallas.”

And thus it began.

DPD Memorial Squad Cars HQ

We ended staying up most all the night. At first we thought, as everyone did, that there was more than one gunman. The thought that Dallas was being targeted for in-the-street executions was excruciating. We had no television, but we had wifi and thus I could stay connected, check on everyone, and keep updated. Thank God for Facebook’s “I’m Safe”. By midnight there I knew there was likely just one madman. By 2 am he was blown up. The irony of it all was that we were ensconced in some of the most peaceful geography in the world — the aqua waters of Lake Tahoe surrounded by snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains. The only sounds were the wind rushing in-between the huge pines and a hoot-owl I was trying to record for my grand daughter. This is real estate vacation home nirvana, one of the places that lower your blood pressure and reward you for a lifetime of hard work.

But we were not relaxing. Violence and racial tensions had come home to a showdown in Dallas. In our home. We were no longer talking Ferguson and Baltimore. There was a lock-down seven miles from our residence. Yes, we were relaxing in “paradise” as planned, but really, when your home is in turmoil, you never rest.

I began to worry immediately: two, then four and then five outstanding young men’s lives lost, something I know too much about experiencing. But then the real estate brain kicked in: would this shooting put the brakes on our market? Would it turn people away from Dallas, curb the momentum that has been rolling as more and more young families chose to live urban in downtown?

Mostly I was just heart-sick, and kept asking, as one does when tragedy strikes, why us?

Why Dallas when we have one of the most progressive police departments in the country when it comes to curbing excessive force? Though some officers buck it, Brown makes his officers slow down to not get involved in a controversial, Ferguson-like incident. Many officers think he is doing this for PR. But Brown proudly claims an 80 percent reduction in complaints alleging excessive force.

“Your adrenaline wants you to chase right in and get it done. … Officers think they’re superman, superwoman,” Brown said. But, he added, they also don’t want to be at the center of a viral negative news story either.

Why would anyone kill five white officers in a city known for not using excessive force? Why would Black Lives Matter even come here? Of course, the entire demonstration had been peaceful until 8:58 p.m.

And we have seen a crime spike on Brown’s watch: 22.7% more in violent crime in first quarter 2016 than 2015. He blamed it on a warm winter; I blame it on a growing city.  Dallas police morale is very low — officers are known to flee the force for suburban forces or for Austin and Fort Worth, where starting pay at a lower rank is $10,000 to $15,000 better and health benefits are more generous. On an average salary of about $40,000 a year, many cannot afford to live inside Dallas, for which they are also scorned. They could probably qualify for a $160,000 home on such a salary.

In fact, DPD is short at least 200 officers with 3,500 sworn personnel.

Last March even the Black Police Association even called for Chief Brown to resign:

Meanwhile, the Black Police Association wrote a letter to the City Council calling on the chief to resign, citing a poisonous atmosphere within the Dallas Police Department.

And the Dallas Police Association, which began criticizing Brown’s staffing proposals last week, said that the department is in a state of chaos and lacks clear direction or a plan for solving the crime spike.

“We heard a bunch of excuses,” Pinkston said of Brown’s statements at the public safety committee meeting. “Violent crime is up and murder is up and it’s all because of bad police management.”

Those two associations, along with the other two groups that represent officers, held a rare joint meeting Monday to discuss the new shifts.

Many officers have also questioned why there has been such a sharp uptick in violent crime after more than a decade of crime reduction in the city. Brown offered up several reasons Monday, including fewer officers — he said 50 have left the department since the beginning of the year — and an unusually warm winter that created a larger victim pool.

Violent Crime in dallas

Dallas City Council members have not been pleased: Phillip Kingston has said a better plan is needed, while Tiffinni Young and Adam Medrano are concerned that DPD is neglecting some neighborhoods in their respective districts, and Adam McGough wanted to hear a more long-term solution to reducing crime.

This is important for our real estate market: location is the number one consideration when people buy a home. Location includes not just the topography but the the quality of the neighborhood, the local schools, sense of community and safety.

The out of towner’s perception in Lake Tahoe was indeed that Dallas is in Texas, which is kind of a wild west show anyhow when it comes to guns.

“The shooter was a vet, that’s very disturbing,” said one woman who was from Silicon Valley. “But I think we have been targeting black youth for too long.”

Which is what we get, said another local, when we fail to solve the targeting problem. Another blamed mental illness.

Still another former military guy said he fully expected the media and the POTUS to use the Dallas ambush as an excuse for gun control.

“My wife is Irish, and taking away the guns sure didn’t stop the IRA from obtaining them to shoot up people,” he said.

Others expressed concern that we don’t screen gun owner’s better, or keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable, thanks to HPPA laws. Others predicted an uptick in gated communities, vacation home sales in remote, secure areas, and an increase in people seeking self-defense course and obtaining CHL’s.

There was the “this country’s going to hell” refrain, and “now it’s even hit Dallas!”

Out of towners were be-smitten with our police chief — me too! To many, Chief Brown is a hero. By Sunday we were all singing the praises of this South Oak Cliff born man who protected his officers and his city by ending Micah Johnson’s twisted life with an explosive device attached to a robot. (Few Lake Tahoers questioned THAT decision, thank God.) Not only did Chief Brown show steely resolve when his city was a war zone, he communicated with transparency, gave great national interviews and spoke some plain truths no one, not even POTUS,  has dared to say until now. Truths I truly thope will help us look at our police in a vastly different way going forward.

Police officers, he told CNN, are not only under-appreciated but are dumped on by their communities. We ask too much of them– schools fail, give it to the cops. Loose dog problem, call a cop:

“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country” said Brown.

“Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve” said Brown. He listed mental health, drug addiction, loose dogs, failing schools as problems the public expects ‘cops to solve.’

“Seventy percent of the African American community is being raised by single women, let’s give it to the cops to solve that as well” said Brown. “That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

“I just ask for other parts of our democracy along with the free press to help us, to help us and not put that burden ALL on law enforcement to resolve.”

The same can be said, I think, of teachers, nurses and physicians. Teach children whose parents cannot parent, heal children whose parents cannot care for them, and cure people of disease who cannot find discipline within their lifestyle. Oh and do it for as little as possible.
But truly, cops are dumped on more than any other profession. They are paid less and criticized more, then blamed for the transgressions of a few within their ranks. Small wonder that enrollment is as low as morale in police academies across the nation.
But at today’s beautiful, moving memorial service at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, President Obama, Chief Brown, Mayor Rawlings, former President George Bush, and other dignitaries gave our city, and maybe our country, some hope going forward. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, flew into Dallas to soothe the city and I think POTUS gave one of his best speeches ever. Yes, he blamed guns — it IS easier for a kid to get a glock than a computer– and he blamed societal shortcomings — not enough money spent on education, mental healthcare, helping parents. But for the first time he really defended cops, almost mimicking Chief Brown:
As a society, we choose to under-invest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs.
The truth is we all know that is what is really to blame for the deaths of these five heroes. We just differ on the solutions.
President Obama spoke frankly on the problem of race in America:
And so when African-Americans from all walks of life, from different communities across the country, voice a growing despair over what they perceive to be unequal treatment, when study after study shows that whites and people of color experience the criminal justice system differently. So that if you’re black, you’re more likely to be pulled over or searched or arrested; more likely to get longer sentences; more likely to get the death penalty for the same crime. When mothers and fathers raised their kids right, and have the talk about how to respond if stopped by a police officer — yes, sir; no, sir — but still fear that something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door; still fear that kids being stupid and not quite doing things right might end in tragedy.

When all this takes place, more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid.

He defended the police, and spoke directly to the protesters:

And then we tell the police, “You’re a social worker; you’re the parent; you’re the teacher; you’re the drug counselor.” We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience; don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when periodically the tensions boil over.

We know those things to be true. They’ve been true for a long time. We know it. Police, you know it. Protesters, you know it. You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are. And you pretend as if there’s no context. These things we know to be true. And if we cannot even talk about these things, if we cannot talk honestly and openly, not just in the comfort of our own circles, but with those who look different than us or bring a different perspective, then we will never break this dangerous cycle.

With an open heart, said the president, we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right. Amen.
Or even better put in the words of Chief Brown: “Become a part of the solution, serve your community. Don’t be a part of the problem…we’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. We’ll put you in your neighborhood – we will help you resolve some of the problems you are protesting about.”