Yes to Lake Cliff. No to Margaret Hunt Hill

“Yes to Lake Cliff Park. No to the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.”

I offer this as a metaphor for what we need in Dallas from our police.

This week, the serious conversation on needed police reform will continue. It’s an ongoing conversation, in case you are not aware. All kudos to our friends at “Mother’s Against Police Brutality,” who have no doubt sometimes felt like lone voices in the wilderness as they raise these issues. I’m also personally grateful for the innovating and justice-centered leadership of the “Dallas Black Clergy” group too.

So, as this conversation continues, I invite us here in Dallas to keep that metaphor-frame in your head.

“Yes to Lake Cliff Park. No to the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.”

What a difference one night made.

On Monday night, police and other law enforcement “Kettled” more than 600 peaceful protestors on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. I’m not going to detail the specifics of the night. If you don’t know what “Kettling” is, use Google.

The accounts of eye-witnesses are numerous, and they include clergy siblings who were shot at with rubber bullets on that bridge. (I’ll post just one account in the comments..and urge you to listen to faith leaders such as my clergy brother Rev. Ray Jordan…)

Just two days earlier, DPD had crossed a threshold they had never crossed before in the decades of protest I have been a part of in our city…the use of riot gear and gas against protestors. Two nights later, they kettled those 600-plus folks on the bridge.

What was the plan, actually?
Arrest all 600-plus?

If they had, do you know how many people would have been on the streets the NEXT night?

10,000?
More?

What a cluster…

Not 24-hours later, however, on Tuesday night, everything was very different. Protestors marched here to North Oak Cliff, at Lake Cliff Park, the neighborhood of our Church. As I wrote that night, I went out to greet them. They were kind enough to allow me to address them briefly, and pray with him.

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When I arrived, I saw that an officer was addressing them. I did not know his name at the time. I know now that he was Sgt. Ira Carter. Sgt. Carter is trained in de-escalation techniques. He was DPD’s “Officer of the Month” in December 2019.

Sgt. Carter was finishing up his address to the crowd of several hundred when I arrived. From what I ascertain, he told them to keep using their voices, he encouraged them to be safe, and he knelt with them and told them that he heart was with them. (this is all my parphrased based on what I later heard…)

I can personally attest that his attitude and approach *clearly* made a difference with that crowd on that night.

In 1967, Martin Luther King said that “riots are the language of the unheard.” On that night, Sgt. Carter heard those several hundred young people. He made a difference, and I cannot commend him highly enough.

However….

Credible report show that the next day Sgt. Carter was REMOVED from protest duty.
That’s right. taken OFF protest duty by someone inside the Dallas Police.

It’s not clear who did this, but it’s pretty clear it happened. It’s been confirmed by very reliable sources in city government. The “good news” (if you can call it that…) is that Chief Hall has intervened and written an internal memo to DPD placing him BACK on protest duty.

In the memo, Chief Hall says:

“We own and atone for law enforcement’s role in the pain that our protestor’s feel. We are working together to make positive change in Dallas and it starts with building stronger relationships.”

Amen to all of this. Grateful that she sent this memo.

Of course, it begs two questions:
1. How do these sentences *also* apply to law enforcement’s actions on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge?
2. Why did Chief Hall have to write this memo in the first place?

Both questions trouble me. The second question DEEPLY troubles me, the more I think about it.

What is going on at DPD that *somebody* (yet unidentified) removed Sgt. Carter from protest duty?
Who did that, and in God’s name, WHY?
Why did the Chief have to WRITE that memo?
Why isn’t it totally obvious that Sgt. Carter is a hero who completely “gets” what is needed to serve the public in this fraught time?

All across the nation this week, we saw dozens of Sgt. Carter’s.

Unfortunately, we saw far too many scenes like the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge too.

The bridge fiasco took place in the context of angry protestors who had already been gassed two nights before. It took place against the backdrop of President Trump’s sacrilegious Photo-Op earlier the same day….where peaceful protesters were gassed and clubbed so he could parade in front of a church like an actor on the Oscar Red Carpet holding up a Guggi bag.

Can’t we have more of Sgt. Carter please?
And less of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge?

How about not just “less?”
How about we go back to DPD before the chaotic week started, and start our conversation about reform there?
How about NONE of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge?

I keep hearing stupid, ignorant statements from politicians, pushing everything on to the backs of protestors, ignoring the fact that police are those who represent all of us. Ignoring the fact that —in every situation— police are the ones we call on to be the adult in the room. Ignoring the fact that “To whom much is given, much is required.”

For example, my own Councilmember, Dave Blewett, ignorantly and foolishly said: “The protesters seem to have decided over the last week that violence and property destruction are counter productive.
Now, I’d like to see the protesters help clean up the graffiti and support the businesses that were hurt.”

No, Councilmember. Protestors didn’t “decide” anything differently.

What happened is that POLICE changed THEIR tactic.

And it worked. Things have been calmer.
Imagine that!

I realize that our officers here in Dallas are collectively suffering from the very real PTSD of being wounded and murdered during a previous rally against Police Brutality. I use the term “PTSD” literally.

Our society AWASH in violence. Many of the protestors on the streets are *also* suffering from PTSD and generational trauma. That makes for a potentially lethal situation.

I know that *many* officers, like Sgt. Carter, know this. I know that many of them are ready for different approaches to policing.

That’s why a Minnesota Sheriff took the humble, servant-leader step of approaching a line of protestors this week…taking OFF his riot vest, laying DOWN his helmet and baton…and JOINING with protestors.

That’s why an entire group of officers in Fort Worth “took a knee” thereby immediately diffusing a tense standoff there. When asked about that moment, Chief Hall was incredibly dismissive.

Given her memo supporting Sgt. Carter, you are forgiven if this gives you whiplash.

We need MORE of what those Ft. Worth officers did, here on our side of the Trinity. These things make a difference.

Instead, in Dallas, our swat team has its own reality TV show.
Instead, police across the nation have been buying up surplus military gear for decades.
This stuff just sits around, waiting for some chance to use it.

And if you buy enough hammers, and carry them around, everything starts to look like a nail.

Police have an almost unthinkably hard job. I get that. Many of them believe that I, and others like me, understand just HOW hard. I’m fairly confident they are right.

But Sgt. Carter was a hero. I know that.

And we need to lift up him and every officer like him. We need to ask WHY Chief Hall had to write the memo reinstating him. We need to keep pushing for police reform and accountability.

I will personally look to our many thoughtful clergy siblings in the Dallas Black Clergy group from guidance on these issues. Their new document:
“10 New Directions for Public Safety and Positive Social Change.”

It’s an incredibly thoughtful proposal.

And as this discussion continues, keep the metaphor in your head:

“Yes to Lake Cliff Park. No to the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.”

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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