Friday’s Eight-Hour Special Session About Protests And Police Accountability Left Dallas Citizens With More Questions Than Answers.

When a hairdresser in Texas wants to renew their license to practice for another two years, the State of Texas requires them to show proof of completing a minimum of four hours of approved continuing education. This is designed to keep up with an ever-changing and evolving industry with new information and techniques. Hairdressers often work with potentially volatile chemicals, in both product and sanitation, so they must show proof of these training hours in order to work for two more years.

One would think the requirements would be more stringent for those who are licensed to carry weapons and be granted great power over the public-at-large. Yet, in what was found to be a stunning number shared by Dallas’ own police Chief Renee Hall, officers seem to be woefully undertrained in tactics necessary to keep up with an ever-evolving world around them.

In what was a marathon of a Dallas City Council session — it lasted about eight hours — on Friday, June 5, Hall was met with various questions brought by the council members and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson.

The meeting, which commenced shortly after 2:00 p.m. began with a virtual platform of over 200 Dallas-area citizens (myself included) who waited through a myriad of technical difficulties for their chance to be heard regarding the city’s response to protestors.

Impassioned and disappointed Dallas residents spoke of their experiences in being detained on The Margaret Hunt Hill bridge on Monday, June 1, which is now referred to as “the bridge incident.” Calls of anger, sadness, disappointment and demand for change rained down over many hours of a public virtual comment session which was immediately followed by the council holding their own discussion afterwards.

Those who had personally experienced the interaction with the Dallas Police Department on Monday talked of being led into what felt like a trap, where they were met with an airborne gaseous agent and assaulted with “less than lethal” rounds and no chance to escape.

Those who were not calling with their witness accounts of that particular night spoke of disdain and disgust at the city leadership’s response — or lack thereof — in the moments since Dallas citizens began exercising their Constitutional right to assembly and free speech.

After multiple hours of hearing from the citizenry, Mayor Johnson led the special council session so that questions of their city’s chief officer. It was during this question time that Mayor Johnson began to ask tough questions of Hall including what training is required of police in matters like de-escalation.

Aside from arguing the semantics of the term “outsiders” in regards to those who have been arrested for criminal acts during otherwise peaceful protests, Johnson himself has been somewhat muted during a time when palpable leadership is needed most.

While Hall said officers are required to complete 40 hours of continuing education and training every two years, she admitted that only four hours of that are slated for learning tactics in de-escalation.

It was an even bigger surprise to those listening that Hall, herself, admitted to not having been through the de-escalation training in her time as Dallas police chief. In the years that have passed since she took the top position in the department in 2017, she has only “reviewed” the training.

Spending most of her time answering questions defensively, Hall held to her position that her decisions in action during protests were warranted while simultaneously saying she wasn’t responsible for the choices made by officers that night on the bridge.

As for citizens severely injured by rubber bullets during daytime protests in the days before the bridge incident, Hall said those were done by outside agencies who she had asked to come in and assist, but also admitted that two officers of hers were placed on administrative leave over the weekend.

When asked if the outside agencies Hall claimed were responsible for the severely injured citizens could be held accountable by the Dallas Citizen oversight board, Hall said they couldn’t. Hall’s admission that outside agencies can be brought inside city limits to police Dallas citizens, yet not be held accountable for their reckless actions, leaving Dallas-ites with no potential recourse, left Mayor Johnson and other council with even more questions than answers.

Mayor Johnson stated that the ultimate “buck stops” at Hall and her boss, City Manager T.C. Broadnax. Defensively posturing, Broadnax held a position of support for Hall and referenced deferring to her investigation into the matter before making any recommendations.

Along with District 4 councilwoman Carolyn King Arnold, Broadnax worked to tone down the investigatory questions from Johnson, which led to an inflamed exchange where Arnold claimed Hall was being publicly “lynched” by this line of questioning brought by the citizens and their elected officials. This was followed by Johnson muting the mics of councilwoman Arnold and Broadnax, which was later followed by shouting between council members and the mayor.

Broadnax and Johnson also argued about who “runs” the city versus who runs the meeting.

When referring to law enforcement response on the bridge as merely “inappropriate,” Broadnax dug his heels in that Hall and her agency should be trusted with investigating the situation, such tough questions should not be asked of her at this time.

The citizens, several council members and the mayor seemed to disagree with that position, as Johnson repeatedly stated “enough days have passed for her to know” if rubber bullets and gas were used on citizens at the bridge. Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano of District 2 went on record to state that he heard Hall, herself, say “no gas was to be used” on the bridge. This directly conflicts with the accounts of several witnesses we at Central spoke to on the bridge as they were detained.

So, which is it?

Was it “smoke” as Hall has described, thus saying she had control over the officers on the bridge? Or, did she not have control over the officers on the bridge as she had previously answered, meaning it could have been tear gas, after all?

Claiming that “we escalated when we needed to and we de-escalated when we needed to,” throughout the past week, Hall continued to give non-answers to pertinent questions brought by the council and citizens, maintaining she had not “seen enough video” to make a statement one way or the other.

What has been made apparent, though, is there is a complete disconnect between the top cop in Dallas and the citizens she’s entrusted to police.

It was also revealed to many watching that Dallas police unions have more power and influence than many had previously realized. It was understood the unions could donate to council member election campaigns, thus influencing those who make the budgets the police department seems to benefit greatly from.

If it takes more hours of initial training to be a hairdresser (1500) in Texas than it does a police officer (1280), and those who trim our locks are held to a higher expectation of compliance than our own police chief is, what message does that send?

What permissions does that give to those who are in uniform?

This is just one of a multitude of questions that citizens of Dallas are entitled answers to, and was brought to the table throughout Friday’s session.

It seems as though citizens are going to have to keep asking such questions in order to get these answers as long as there is continued deflection by those who have the ability to answer them.

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