The Dallas Police Department Responded To Police Brutality Protests With More Brutality — And The Person In Charge Can’t Even Bring Herself To Own As Much.
It’s time for Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall to resign.
Just the first reason: Over the course of the last three weeks of ongoing and nonstop police brutality protests all throughout the city, a video emerged showing Dallas police officers cheering and laughing while shouting “America! Fuck, yeah!” after shooting Brandon Saenz — a black Dallas man — with a now-court-order-banned “less-lethal” projectile:
The shooting resulted in “the loss of [Saenz’s] left eye, seven teeth and a fractured left side of his face.”
That’s pretty standard for rubber bullets, actually. But he should never have been fired upon.
When struck by DPD ammunition, Saenz was participating in one of the city’s first police brutality demonstrations to follow the national outrage and protesting that arose in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
It has to be said: Saenz wasn’t rioting or looting when he was hit; he was peacefully protesting among hundreds of others beside him in the heart of Downtown Dallas, as is his right.
Still, it should be noted that Saenz intentionally entered that protest fray with the express intent of voicing his concerns over persistent, too-common, frightening police behavior.
But that isn’t true of every victim who suffered as Dallas Police wantonly, and with seeming impunity (if not outright encouragement), aggressively responded to a city openly and loudly questioning their professional authority.
In fact, one woman heinously hit with excessive DPD fire throughout all this wasn’t even protesting. She says she was simply walking home from the grocery store when a “less-lethal” bullet caught her forehead, leaving her a bloody mess.
She says she was walking home with her groceries when police fired some sort of pellet in her face. Says she’s not a protester. #DallasProtests pic.twitter.com/2IyO1S9j6n
— Kevin Krause (@KevinRKrause) May 31, 2020
What Saenz and this woman have in common isn’t a cause, or even behavior.
They share being unjustifiably brutalized at the hands of Dallas police.
Are rubber bullets necessary when the populace is actively rioting? Maybe — like, theoretically — although most of us would agree almost certainly never, and certainly not during overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations.
We know that rubber bullets are dangerous — and regularly lethal, too. According to one 2017 study, at least 53 out of 1,984 people struck with “a so-called less-than lethal-weapon” died as a result of that attack. Another 300 — just one out of every seven hit — suffered permanent disability and/or disfigurement.
Especially amid protests over police brutality, rubber bullets deserve to be locked up in the Dallas Police Department arms room. They — along with, for that matter, teargas canisters, which DPD also employed during its early protest response — shouldn’t be found anywhere near protests.
Any decision to the contrary shows a terrible lack of judgment. And yet it’s the very real call Chief Hall made heading into this mess — and later publicly defended.
Even if we disregard her department’s admitted wrongful arrest of almost 700 protesters on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on June 1, this alone is enough to justify protesters’ calls for her resignation.
What really sealed the deal for me, though? Weeks after these “less-than-lethal” bullets’ documented use, Hall still refuses to acknowledge their deployment.
If you want to play with deadly military toys, to get lots of high-speed surplus gear and to mess around with tricked-out armoured vehicles — or, let’s face it, to just let your patrol officers play soldier — you have to be sure they’re trained and disciplined enough to wisely use all those options. You also better be prepared to answer questions about their use, such as: So, why all the headshots?
More than that, as a leader, you have to take responsibility for whatever happens next.
As a former Army infantry officer myself, I know that my fellow officers and I were instilled very early on with a clear understanding: “I am responsible for everything my unit does or fails to do.” Every military leader I’ve encountered stands by this.
When Minnesota State Police wrongfully arrested a black CNN reporter who had been covering protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz ate crow: “I take full responsibility,” the former Amy sergeant major said. “There is absolutely no reason something like this should happen.”
After his disastrous walk through Lafayette Square with President Trump during protests in early June, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, called U.S. senators and “took full responsibility for being there.”
That’s what military leaders do. They take responsibility for their own actions, and for those of their troops.
Chief Hall has yet to even approach that. She’s hasn’t shown that her force knows the limits of its power. She’s yet to demonstrate how her officers can responsibly wield the weaponry they’ve been provided at her discretion.
Dallas deserves a leader — something Chief Hall hasn’t yet shown herself to be since moving from Detroit for her role here in 2017.
Don’t forget: Botham Jean’s death also happened on her watch.
Ultimately, the job of any police chief is to keep his or her citizens safe. Whether they’re sitting at home (as Jean was), driving in traffic or exercising their constitutional right to protest, they deserve that grace.
Hall’s tenure flies in the face of that American-given assuredness.
There’s little real protection under her watch — at least not any that I feel exists as an observer of her force’s actions, anyway.
I don’t feel comfortable protesting in my city with her department looking on.
I have a family, after all. I’ve seen the aftermath photos. I might get shot in the face just for holding a sign.
And I’m a white man, as well as a former Army officer.
If I don’t feel safe, who can?
Even asking the question confirms a fundamental failure of the Dallas Police Department.
Chief Hall needs to own that. And she needs to resign.
Update on September 8, 2020: She done did.
Brandon Friedman is a former Army officer and business owner based in Deep Ellum, Dallas.