But the rest of the country has a long way to go to catch up to Big D’s spirit of unity


Dozens of activists participate on Monday, June 11 in a sit-in outside U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s Orlando office, protesting for stricter gun control laws. The sit-in, intended to last 49 hours, was planned to honor the 49 victims of the June 12 Pulse Nightclub shooting and to pressure Rubio to take action on gun violence. (John Raoux/Associated Press)

David Taffet  |  Senior Staff Writer

Although the ambush of Dallas police officers took place barely a week ago, law enforcement is already using the event to examine its tactics, plans and community relations.

President Barack Obama said in remarks to police in Dallas this week that “the Dallas Police Department has been at the forefront of improving relations between police and the community.”

“The murder rate here has fallen,” Obama said. “Complaints of excessive force have been cut by 64 percent. The Dallas Police Department has been doing it the right way.”

When David Brown became police chief in 2010, he stepped up a policy of using de-escalation tactics that have shown dramatic results: Dallas has the lowest rate of police shootings of any major city in the U.S.

The number of excessive force complaints has dropped dramatically. In 2009, 147 complaints were filed against Dallas officers for excessive force. That’s almost three complaints a week. By 2014, complaints were down to 53 or one a week and by last year there were only 13 — about one a month.

Although it was controversial at the time, one of the first steps Brown took after becoming chief was to fire officers who couldn’t conform to new standards. Since taking office, 70 officers have been let go.

De-escalation tactics have taken a number of forms: When a high-speed chase caused a fatal accident, Brown limited high-speed chases. Officers show up for demonstrations in their squad cars dressed in police uniforms, not wearing riot gear riding in military vehicles.

Dallas officers receive training in de-escalation procedures. They’re taught to listen and express empathy. They’re taught communication skills.

At the Black Lives Matter demonstration on July 7, police were interacting with demonstrators, talking to them and taking selfies with them before a gunman opened fire, killing four DPD officers and one DART officer, and wounding seven other officers and two civilians.

Lynn Walters, who attended the demonstration said there was a large police presence and a good mix of people from all races and backgrounds.

“Certainly people were angry about what happened in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis,” she said.

They were angry about the practice and pattern of targeting people of color, she said, but the protesters weren’t targeting those officers there to protect them. And officers didn’t feel threatened or targeted by the demonstrators.

Not so lucky elsewhere
But that same spirit of unity doesn’t exist elsewhere. Tensions appear to be rising between Black Lives Matter advocates and proponents of Blue Lives Matter, the name of a movement focusing on the safety of law enforcement officers.

Kelly Orians, a 30-year-old white public defender who attended a die-in protest in New Orleans, said the two movements are not — and should not be — equal.

“I don’t believe in a Blue Lives Matter movement in the same way that I don’t believe in a White Lives Matter movement or a Men’s Lives Matter movement,” she said. “Because we’re pretty clear that those lives matter and our institutions are built to protect those lives, whereas our institutions are not built … to protect black lives.”

Tracie Washington, a black civil rights lawyer in New Orleans, expressed the same frustration with the Blue Lives Matter movement, as well as with a law Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards recently signed extending hate crime status to crimes targeting police and other emergency responders.

“It tries to marginalize Black Lives Matter,” Washington said. “And it pits two equally important interests against each other that weren’t against each other.”

William Colarulo, the white police superintendent of Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, is equally opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement, which he called a “violent, hateful organization that condones violence against police.”

“They chant, ‘Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon,”’ he was quoted by Philly.com as saying. “I give no credit to that organization. They tend to instigate rather than heal and find solutions to the problem.”

Comedian Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and a biracial native of South Africa, said people “shouldn’t have to choose between the police and the citizens that they are sworn to protect.”

“It always feels like in America … if you take a stand for something, you automatically are against something else. It’s such a strange world to be in,” he said last week on the show.

In an editorial published Monday in The New York Times, Brooklyn Borough President and former NYPD Captain Eric L. Adams, who is black, said police and black citizens share the concern that they may be in the line of fire.

“My solution to the tension between the police and the people — which I recognize as my own inner tension — is to seek unity, not find division,” he wrote, adding that community education and police reforms are also needed.

Neither side should stereotype the other, said Gregory Thomas, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. The Dallas shooter and others who fired at police in retaliation for the deaths of the black men are not “reflective of the vast majority of citizens who are engaged with and supportive of the law enforcement community,” Thomas said.

Likewise, he added, the police shootings are not “reflective of the professional work that members of the law enforcement community conduct dutifully every day.”

Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Richard Ross said the terms Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter should not be mutually exclusive, but he acknowledges the growing divisions between the two groups.

“It’s this either-or proposition,” said Ross, who is black. “This is where we’re stuck. … It’s gotten so far down the tracks that I’m afraid even people who want things to be resolved don’t have a loud enough voice.”

Associated Press writer Jesse J. Holland and Errin Haines Whack along with several other AP writers, contributed to this report.  

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2016.