By MIKE MCGEE
The Dallas Examiner
In the wake of the deaths of African Americans killed in situations involving police, Dallas – like many cities throughout the nation – have issued a call to alter or dismantle modern systems born of and/or supported by a racially segregated past. A major part of that change would include reforming or defunding police departments. The push was further fueled by government and police response to the peaceful protests that took place throughout the city.
As Black Lives Matter advocates stand on one side and the Dallas Police Department stands on the other side, one group stands in the middle of the Black/blue division – the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas.
Groups like the BPA and the leadership for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police deal walk the line between being Black and being blue everyday.
The BPA – whose voices may sometimes not be heard in the social fray – along with The Dallas Police Department’s Latino Law Enforcement Association, held a Blue for Black Lives Matter rally June 6 in a show of solidarity during the #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd demonstrations.
Terrance Hopkins, president of the BPA and a speaker at the rally, spoke about the role his organization plays when voices for such changes are raised.
“I don’t feel like we’re caught in the middle. I kind of feel that we are part of it. We share a vested interest in it, being African American officers for the most part …” he stated. “So, it’s always been our charge, as the Black Police Association, to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement based on the historical issues that African Americans have had with law enforcement.”
He admitted that police are not perfect and that has to be acknowledged and dealt with by departments at home and across the U.S.
In addition, he spoke of the I-was-Black-before-I-was-blue conundrum that African American officers have to wrestle with at times.
“Therein lies the problem, right? You had that conversation with a Black officer, and you understood where he’s coming from. I think the problem is, is that when there are others who are not so open minded [and] could care less where you’re coming from,” he remarked, speaking about those who mistrust Black officers before attempting to understand their stories, just as they wish their stories to be understood.
Still, Hopkins also placed a great portion of the blame on exactly what protestors are speaking up about.
“I think the reason that we’re at a crossroads now is because we refuse to acknowledge that some people come out here and do this job with something other than care, caring for all of the community, as opposed to just one segment of the community,” he illustrated.
“Now we find ourselves facing this problem, so… the comment about these protests, how long they’re going on, how long they’re going to last? We don’t know. But to me, we’ve reached a boiling point if you will, all right. And what’s good about this is, to me, it’s not only Black people. You go to a lot of demonstrations it’s Black, White, Hispanic, Asian; it’s a lot of people.
“So, I think America’s fed up now [with] why this continues to happen to a particular group of people by a particular group of law enforcement officers. I think if we’re all on the right side, which is the side of humanity, then we’ve got to make sure our police department employ people who understand that as opposed to not.”
DART Police Chief James Spiller had not responded to requests for comments by deadline. Spiller reports to Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer Carol Wise. Both are African American, according to the DART website.
Mark Ball, the media representative who received the request for comment, did however reply with a link to an online statement from Gary C. Thomas, president and executive director of DART.
“DART has a long history of working to remove barriers to transportation, employment and business opportunity based on race and ethnicity. We believe all the communities we serve should be treated fairly and be free from prejudice. I also believe this history provides us the opportunity to be a powerful voice in the conversations ahead and am already working on arranging those meetings,” a portion of the June 9 statement, Stronger Together, read.
Thomas concluded his statement with, “I intend to quietly spend 8 minutes and 46 seconds each day for the next week reflecting on my personal role in addressing these concerns and encourage each of us to do the same,” referencing the time it took for a police officer to kill George Floyd May 26 in Minneapolis.
Hopkins, for his part, ruminated on the situation race and power currently creates in police work amid the communities the officers serve.
“Coming from a 30-year veteran in police work here’s what I take from this: the law enforcement agencies have to be honest about the issues that we’re facing now. Do we employ some people who may be biased in certain types of ways? We do. It’s evident. It’s factual. It’s proven now,” he admitted.
“But what are we going to do to make sure that we are getting the best candidates? And I think our focus needs to change. We used to be focused on, does somebody have the tactical mindset? Are they willing to pull the trigger? Are they willing to fight the bad guy? Are they willing to go out there and just address the issues that they’re going to address? Which, those are important, because that’s the fact of police work.
“But we now need to start focusing on, how is this person as a human being? That seems to be weighing more importantly now as we look at the reform. How does one man, or two, or three, stand idly by as an officer keeps his knee on a man’s neck until he slowly dies? I’m also a human being before I’m a police officer. Where’s my care and concern and compassion for another human being? That’s got to be just as much a quality of being a police officer as any of the other things.”
Hopkins’ final thoughts reflected specifically on the city’s responsibility.
“We have to start watching who we actually allow to wear this badge and a gun because you, the public, you trust that we are properly-situated human beings.”
Living up to that trust through the betterment of law enforcement agencies is the largest tangible goal that departments need to meet, especially within the Southern Sector, he insisted.