The Dallas Examiner
It’s been a long road for Commissioner John Wiley Price as he waited – along with his many supporters and critics – to hear “not guilty” on seven charges against him.
“It’s both bitter and sweet,” Price expressed. “It’s sweet that its some relief, but it’s bitter once you’ve excavated and pulled the cover back and you see what’s really there.”
While he called the experience “a testimony” in his life, he said the end of the trial didn’t feel like the burden was completely lifted because it was not really about him or anything he did.
“It’s really about this community, and I don’t know if it’s ever lifted given what came forth in terms of the trial and the testimony,” he insisted. He closed his eyes tight and folded his hands in front of his face as he continued sternly. “It gives me some real pause that that government can operate in the manner in which it has. And basically, it’s gone unchecked. I just thank God I had some committed attorneys with very meager resources.
“I think what you’ll find is that this has been occurring since – at minimum – 2005. I think the judge said to the government that this was their own making and therefore they’ve had all the resources and they’ve had all the time … and the jury was a smart jury and was able to see.”
Price said that while he and Dapheny Faine, his assistant, had four lawyers and eight students, the government had a team of 120 to 150 agents and/or personnel assigned to the case since it opened, according to one of his attorneys. The FBI’s team brought 7.5 terabytes of information. Price described it as “hundreds of millions of sheets of paper” and said 78 percent of the seized material wasn’t seized from where they say it was.”
The investigation alone was bizarre because it all began when he was doing nothing more than helping friends and associates, Fain and close associate Kathy Nealy, owner of Kathy Nealy and Associates, and it had nothing to do with politics, according to Price.
“And then if you’re going to appropriate property to me because I take an interest and I assist you, in this country, that’s not a conveyance,” he said, with a slight tone of irritation. “If I help you build your house, all of a sudden it’s mine? If you depend on me for information and I engage, it belongs to me? You arrive at that conclusion based on that? It was really almost absurdity.
“It’s been pretty surreal all along. It’s like, ‘Really, you’re going to really go forth with this?’ And they did.”
The investigation spanned a decade and concluded with a two-month trial with charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, defrauding the IRS, false tax reports, and providing false statements to the FBI – in all, the federal indictment included 13 charges. Fain and Nealy were also charged along with Christian Lloyd Campbell, an IT salesman and consultant; and Karen Manning, an art gallery owner.
“There was no way we were supposed to just plow through that information,” Price said, as he described the various types of evidence the FBI brought to court. “And in the final analysis, God confused your enemies.”
He also described the love and encouragement that he received from the community during the investigation and trial and said he owed it to the community to be that representative, “head up, shoulders back.” And if it looked like he walked into court fearless, Price said it was due to his faith.
“I said all the time, from the time it started, ‘Faith and fear can’t dwell.’ And if you really believe, then you’re going to be okay,” he reflected. “Everything I read says, ‘Fear not. Once fear sets in, then everything else is gone.’ And I never feared.”
Still, while this particular trial had ended, Price couldn’t help but to be concerned with the trials ahead for the community. He said injustice in the Black community by the government has gone unchecked and may continue to go unchecked, especially with the new administration in the White House – which did not include even one African American assistant U.S. attorney.
He went on to talk about a specific case as an example in which he witnessed the U.S. attorney ignore evidence and witnesses that would exonerate a Black man since it didn’t further their case. Price said it made him wonder, “Are you about justice or are you about conviction?” He and his office then began working with the defense attorney to exonerate the man.
“And so that’s the larger looming issue. I mean, what the hell is really going on?” he questioned.
He said that as a result of his trial, he is more committed to the community and ready to do what he feels is necessary to serve his community.
Price is no stranger to trials and tribulation. He is a longtime community advocate known for his sometimes-radical stances against injustice. He entered the political world while working for the late Judge Cleo Steele Jr., a trailblazer and community activist. Wanting to do more for the community, he ran for office and took his seat in the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court on Jan. 1, 1985. Known for being outspoken and forthright, he became known as “Our Man Downtown.”
“I’ve been provocative. I’ve been passionate,” he admitted, looking back on a time when Blacks were the prominent residents of public housing, which had been infested with bugs and left untreated. In order to get the city’s attention, he delivered a container of cockroaches to Dallas City Hall and released them during an open meeting.
“I mean, how do you demonstrate any better that you got an infestation?” he asked with a subtle laugh. “You have to do it by any means possible. That’s the only way you ever get change.”
Price went on to recall other moments during his early years of activism when he was standing with a group of activists in front of the trucks at RSL Lead Smelter in West Dallas, where residents were experiencing side effects of lead poisoning.
He also talked about picketing the media, a hospital and police station regarding hiring and promotion practices. He said they were no different than those that came before them and advised the next generation to do their homework. He said they knew how many employees a business had and what percentage were Black, as well as what percentage of Blacks were eligible and promoted within a business.
We always did our homework,” he reiterated as he reflected on a past protest of the Dallas Police Department. “We could tell you how many people was in the pool to be promoted. We could tell you how many they picked out of the pool, because the pool may have required minimal qualifications. So when we went to protest the police department, we knew.
“So we started on Illinois at the Southwest … and then we moved to Southeast. And they were paying us minimal kinds of attention. And then we went to Northwest Highway. All of a sudden, things changed. Malik Aziz, he will tell you, deputy chief. They put Malik at Northwest Highway. As long as we’re in our community, they don’t care. But we went to Northwest Highway and then when we went to North Park, it got their attention.”
Price also noted it was important for the community to understand policies of the business or government organizations that they are concerned about with regard to advocating justice.
“I see people hit and miss. And you try to tell them that’s not what its all about,” he insisted. “Through the ice, through the rain, they knew we were going to be there.”
Price talked about remaining steadfast until they met their goal, not just as a reaction to a tragedy. He said he understands that the younger generation wants to do things their way, but if their way doesn’t provide the results they’ve been working toward, they should consider following the path that has been tread before them.
He also held the community accountable for its lack of voting, insisting that voting was its most powerful – yet underutilized – tool.
“I understand institutional racism, but some of that is our fault. How do you, after seeing what’s going on nationally, statewide, how do you have a 31-member state school board in Texas – [the second largest state with the second largest population] – designing textbooks, wanting to convert the institute of slavery to involuntary servitude or some alternate form of migration and you don’t vote?” the frustrated commissioner asked. “You have 31 senatorial districts in this state and you don’t have one African American on the d—- board. But yet, and still we got a school board election and we’re voting 5 percent. I mean, as Pastor Holmes use to say, ‘They done put it in our hands.’”
Price said he has a 100 percent voting record. Even when they arrested him for obstructing the highway during a protest, he voted from the jail. It was his first time utilizing an absentee vote. He said that he as voted in every local and national election – regardless of what was on the ballot.
“I don’t understand. How do you keep blaming people when they’ve given you power?” he emphasized. “I always say, ‘Ross Perot has more money than I probably ever will, but on Election Day, he’s got one vote and I got one.’”
He was equally concerned that the community was not educated enough about public policy, which effects many aspects of life. He further stated that it should be talked about weekly – even in the pulpit.
“The oppressed takes on the characteristics of the oppressor,” he repeatedly stated when talking about voting, knowledge of public policy and working together.
Price said that he didn’t have all the answers, but he’s working to do his part.
“All I can do is, at the end of the day, the historical footnote needs to say that ‘my back was not bent, my head was not bowed.”
Price said he wakes up at 4:30 every morning, thankful for another day and ready to get to work on behalf of Dallas County.
“[I am] a vessel and compilation of a community of [my] environment. And I was real fortunate, coming out of Forney, Texas, to bump into the likes of the Al Lipscolm of the world. And … [I’m] somebody who’s still evolving and growing – and at 67 I’d like to still say I’m growing, because if God taught be anything during this trial, He taught me patience and temperance. My faith is strong. My faith has always been strong. [But] my patience,” he said, shaking his head. “And to sit there for seven weeks. Even some of my attorneys talked about the fact that they watched my face and didn’t know how I could not change expressions when people were saying certain things.”
Price said it was difficult at times to remain silent during the trial, but in the end, he gained patience and grew more eager to get back to work.
“I’m no different from anybody else, it’s just that I subscribe to the Marcus Garvey theology, when they asked him what did he believe. He said he believed that everything he needed, God had already placed inside him. Its from the piece called Know Thy Self,” Price concluded. “I believe that everything I need, I got. I just got to use it. Because, as Maya Angelou said, ‘You can practice all the virtues in the world, if you don’t practice courage, nothing else matters.’”