The Dallas Examiner
Sheriff Marian Brown, the first African American sheriff of Dallas County, stated that her entire life has been preparing her for this moment, whether she knew it yet or not.
Brown served as interim sheriff after Sheriff Lupe Valdez resigned to pursue political state office. During that time, she ran for sheriff and won during the general and joint election on Nov. 6, 2018.
She came into office amid the conviction of a White officer who shot an unarmed Black teenage boy, and the shooting of an unarmed Black man in his own apartment by a White female officer – widening the gap between the Black community and the local law enforcement. But Brown insisted she was up for the challenge.
“It was something that I was called to do. It was not my intent to grow up and be a police officer. My intent was to grow up and be a journalist – that’s what I wanted to do. That’s what I went to school for, but at some point I got sidetracked,” said Brown. “As we say in law enforcement, it got in my blood and I decided that this was what I wanted to do. Then, even after I said I’d only do it for about a year, I decided that I wanted to do it even more because I realized it was an opportunity for me to reach people – not only the people in the community, but also the people with whom I work. It was an opportunity for me to live and, by example, say to those people that it’s okay. It’s all right. The police and the community have to work together.”
Much of her career and political platform have been focused on promoting diversity and community outreach efforts in law enforcement departments throughout Dallas.
Improving life in the community has always been central to not only Brown’s identity as a law enforcement officer but to her identity as an individual, as well. Having grown up as a Black girl in Duncanville, her passion for making a positive difference in the community would hit another level upon joining the Duncanville Police Department where she patrolled the very streets she grew up on, in turn laying the foundation for her rapid ascent to Dallas County sheriff.
“I don’t know that there was a magic moment. I had a girlfriend and roommate whose brother worked for the Dallas Police Department and I asked them to go out and ride. I think that’s kind of where I got the bug of it,” Brown recalled. “Of course, when I was at UTA, you’d open the school paper and see ads for people to come and work for the Dallas Police Department. I remember thinking, ‘Well, why would you go work for the police department if you’re in school? Go and do what you’re in school to do.’ I just remember that I decided I would try it for about a year.
“I remember riding with my friend Anthony and Chief Floyd, and I remember going from call to call thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, I think I like this.’ The opportunity to reach people right where they are, in whatever their situation is. Maybe they’re in crisis, maybe there’s a family disturbance happening, but the opportunity to go in and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Why are we doing that?’ Or, ‘Hey, let’s think about this.’ Just to reason with people.
“I don’t know that there was a magic moment though. It just kind of happened. I decided I’d give it a shot and a year into it, I was still working on what I call now, getting back to real life. At that point, I had decided that I needed to take this opportunity to visit with some people who worked with me, and the people in the community as well.”
In practice and experience, Brown understands Dallas County’s issues because she’s been on both sides – as a law enforcement officer and as a Black community member.
“We had a very close family member – we called her our cousin because when we were kids we called everybody that – who was put into the trunk of a car at the end of our street by her boyfriend and the car was set afire. I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. This stuff happens in our neighborhood? This is my home. What do you mean she’s in the trunk of a car?’”
This event was impactful and motivated Brown – along with a large number of African Americans – to fight valiantly for racial equality in the American prison system.
“I’ve spent many years involved in community relations, activities and community-oriented policing before everybody knew what it was.”
Brown recalled when the job of assembling Dallas’ first community-oriented policing task force ended up on her desk.
“I have an advantage in that I come from the Dallas community, so it’s easier. I’m not going to say it’s easy, but it’s easier for me, someone who grew up here, to go to the community and say, ‘Okay look, I need you to trust me on this. I know where you are, I’ve been where you are.’ I know that’s why when I talk to people, I tell them the things that I have experienced in my life. I grew up in a community that was bookended by what happened to Shavon Randle and Gabrielle Simmons. Right in the middle is where I grew up.
“So I’m able to say to people, I get it. I understand your distrust of the police department. I understand your concerns about what happens when someone is stopped. I get it because, in case they didn’t notice, I’m a woman of color. I want them to understand that, not only do I get it, but because I’m on this side and that side, I can bring the two sides together. I can help bridge the gap.”
Brown stated that the position doesn’t make her special, but it does come with a huge responsibility.
“Recently, I was at a restaurant and a gentleman walked up to me and said, ‘Excuse me, like, are you somebody or something?’ and I just looked at him. He said, ‘Because somebody has paid for your dinner and two other people said they wanted to do it.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m just the sheriff.’ And that kind of blew me away. That said to me that there were people watching me, and it’s a constant reminder to me that people are watching.”
“Then … while I am the sheriff of Dallas County, that means I am responsible for maintaining the care, custody and control of people who have been charged with criminal offenses.”
Brown continued discussing the task of leading the second largest county sheriff’s department in the state of Texas.
“For me, that’s a major thing because I’m doing that, a little girl who grew up in Dallas, Texas, who never ever anticipated being the sheriff of the large county where she grew up and never anticipated being in the political realm at all, as matter of fact.
“I was amongst those little kids running around in the middle of the street playing. That was me, that was me. It was by the grace of God, you know? It could have been me; it could have been my family,” Brown said, reflecting on those who weren’t as fortunate.
“There’s nothing special about me. I’ll tell you what kept me on the straight and narrow – a mother who said what she meant and meant when she said, bottom line. On Sundays, she took us to church and she took us to Sunday school. She said, ‘Here’s what I expect you to do, here’s what I’m expecting of you. If you want an education when you graduate from high school, I’m going to make it happen. I might not know how, but I’m going to make it happen.’ She gave all her children that opportunity, and when it came my turn, I said, ‘I would like to take you up on that.’”
At its root, Brown believed this structure to be essential to success anywhere.
“I think people, they want to do well and they want somebody to have expectations of them. They want somebody to ask, ‘What do you do in your job?’ … ‘Well, that is fantastic, you’re doing a great job. What can we do to help you in your job?’ I think people want to have encouragement. I think they want to just have somebody who leads them, to give them that expectation and encouragement.”
“I think I give that. I sure hope that I do.”