Mayor Johnson calls a special meeting in response to excessive force claims during peaceful protests

Mayor Eric Johnson
Mayor Eric Johnson reacts to callers during a Dallas City Council special meeting June 5. – Screenshot by The Dallas Examiner/City of Dallas website

 

By ROBYN H. JIMENEZ

The Dallas Examiner

 

Mayor Eric Johnson called a Dallas City Council special meeting June 5 in response to reports of police misconduct. The conduct in question occurred during recent protests throughout Dallas. Complaints included law enforcement’s use of rubber bullets, tear gas and excessive force toward peaceful protesters. One person in the crowd was shot in the eye. Another had his jaw broken. There were also concerns about the hundreds of nonviolent demonstrators arrested for curfew violations in downtown and along the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.

The 8.5 hour meeting included an open microphone for which the mayor expressed appreciation for the over 200 citizens that signed up to call in and speak.

“I called this special meeting today of the Dallas City Council to provide the public an opportunity to speak and share their concerns regarding the city’s response to the protests that have been occurring all over our city regarding the killing of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota,” Johnson stated. “This is a time for us to listen, and learn and seek answers from each other. And I’m pleased that we’re doing so tonight. I also wanted to allow the City Council to have the opportunity to exercise our oversight function, ask questions and get answers on the record from the city manager and the police chief.”

 

Open microphone calls

Speakers who signed up with a city of Dallas address were given 1.5 minutes to speak. Other speakers had 1 minute. Many speakers called in with questions and concerns about local law enforcements reaction toward nonviolent demonstrators.

“On March 7, 1965, hundreds of protesters marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the fight for civil rights and equal protection under the law in America,” Justin Boyd. “Fifty-five years later, on June 1, peaceful protester in Dallas marched across the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge to protest police reform and police brutality here in Dallas. They were met with teargas and excessive force and military-style tactics on Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge by the Dallas Police Department. Teargas is a chemical weapon, by the way. On June 2, Police Chief Renee Hall publically defended their position, tactics and actions in regard to peaceful protesters. My question for the mayor, the city manager, city council and the police chief, is, “Can Dallas offer nothing better?”

Still in pain, Dr. Pamela Grayson offered a first-hand account of the events that took place.

“I marched on Monday night, and I was in the crowd. I was shot in the head with a rubber bullet,” Grayson asserted. “I have a big knot on my head. I am dizzy. I cannot work this week. I can barely take care of my child. We were peacefully protesting. I didn’t deserve to be shot … I don’t believe terminating Chief Hall is the issue. You have a deeper-rooted issue than Chief Hall. But I guess y’all will figure that out next week when my paperwork hits your legal department.”

Some speakers expressed anxiety caused by the military actions of the police.

“I’ve seen friends and loved one in the past week, met with military-grade equipment, tear gas and bullets. I fear for their lives and for my own while exercising our constitutional rights, even in lawful ways,” a tearful Jaycee Solis said as her voice shook recalling her experience during the protests.

She urged the leadership to address DPD’s ongoing violence toward peaceful protesters, move to demilitarization, and asked that offers that inflicted mental and physical harm on peaceful protesters to be held accountable.

Despite some technical issues, speakers were very vocal about their concerns and demands. Among the diverse group of speakers, some called for Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall to resign or be fired, defund the police department, end the war on Black people by the DPD and/or invest in the police oversight committee.

“Earlier this week, the eye of a 26-year-old was ripped by a bullet, fired by a sponge gun as he walked peacefully to a group of police …” Jason Strube spoke passionately. “I ask that you go back to all of your campaign donors and tell them that we, the people, will continue to march for freedom, because we have no tears to spare for your broken glass, until you mourn our broken bodies.”

Kedra Flowers also called for accountability and change, but had doubts Hall could lead the change.

“Diversity, respect, equality and trust are not laws that can be legislated,” Flowers expressed. “They are not skin color. They are mindsets. They are relationships. Chief Hall has demonstrated this week that she does not have the ability to take a stand to mend the relationships that have previously been broken in Dallas, between the DPD and the community. She does not have the tools to mend the damage that was here before her, and furthermore, she is creating additional damage by the decisions, statements and overall tone that which she is dealing with an already hurting community. It is time for Dallas to move forward from its history and create a new future.”

There were also speakers who called on the city to invest more in communities of need.

“This situation really boils down to a choice between police enforcement and community investment,” said King, “We’re the third largest arrest rate of protests in the country. So serious things have to change …”

Trustee Maxie Johnson, district 5, chose to take part in the meeting as a speaker who experienced the traumatic events during the protests.

“I was there on the bridge and participated in the protest. During the protest, there were bullets that were shot. A pastor that was there was trying to leave but was told he could not leave until the march was over. When we got ready to go on the bridge, no one told us that we would be in violation. Yet, our chief of police said that we were warned. That statement was not true,” the trustee stated.

“I felt like it was the Edmund Pettus Bridge march – a peaceful protest that turned into an attack on our peaceful protesters. Rubber bullets were shot, tear gas, aggressive arrests, all while there were children on the bridge. That was totally unacceptable. I supported the chief of police, but I did not support this action. Our children were in danger, innocent people that were peacefully protesting were in danger, for no reason.

“I do support you Mayor Johnson. I do support our city council. I understand that you may not be over our police chief, but I believe our city manager, Mr. Broadnax is. And I’m asking someone to do something about this. This is reckless behavior from those who have authority and we should not let these things happen. Who gave the authority for bullets and teargas to be thrown at innocent people that were peacefully protesting?”

 

Mayor seeks answers

After all available speakers were heard, the briefing session began. The session allowed the mayor and city council members to ask the police chief and City Manager T.C. Broadnax questions about the incidents.

The mayor began with questions for Hall.

“Were the protesters warned not to go onto the bridge?” he inquired

“Yes sir, that is what was communicated to me,” Hall answered. “I was not at the bridge. But it was communicated prior to – um, there were multiple people out there; the incident commander was out there …”

“So when, on June 3,” Johnson asked. “In an article in D Magazine by Tim Cato, he writes that ‘Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall told reporters that protesters marching on the bridge would lead to arrests. I never heard that warning. I talked to more than a dozen protesters that night and the following day who never heard that warning. And journalists embedded within our march said they never heard that warning.’ You’re saying that’s inaccurate and … someone issued a warning …?”

Hall stated again that she was told a warning had been issued.

He asked again if the article was inaccurate. Again, she insisted that she was told they were warned.

“I can’t tell you want they heard,” she replied. She then stated that Rebecca Lopez with WFAA was live and reported that they had been warned.

Johnson also asked about the tear gas. Hall denied the use of tear gas, claiming the canisters discharged smoke.

Johnson read more from the same article, “‘I do believe Hall lied at least once when she denied tear gas was used against us Monday night. Hall has confirmed tear gas was used in multiple instances prior to Monday … It was tear gas. I saw it and smelled it. I heard screams from those with burning eyes. We heard officers tell us that they would not use more gas if we complied with them.’”

He asked again if the report was inaccurate. Hall insisted it was smoke.

Johnson then asked if rubber bullets were used on the protesters. Hall said she didn’t know, but it was under investigation.

“I just want to make sure I’m clear on something,” Johnson questioned. “So you’re saying you still, to this day, have not confirmed or you don’t know whether or not rubber bullets were fired at protesters on the bridge.”

Hall stated that there were several videos and she had not had a chance to view all of them, but also had not seen “the 40-millimeter bullets being used.”

Johnson continued reading, “I wasn’t struck by the less-than-lethal bullets indiscriminately blasted into the crowd. Those who were hit showed me massive blue and black splotches on their skin where they had been struck. I saw at least one bloody face and heard stories about others.”

He asked how she was not able to confirm marchers being shot. “Because they are certainly saying they were…” he said. Again, she said she had no visual proof.

Another article Johnson read also indicated that protesters were hit with tear gas that had irritated their eyes and were injured by rubber bullets. Hall continued to state that she had no proof.

He then asked who the DPD ultimately reported to. Hall said they report to her.

“And just to be absolutely clear, where would you say the buck stops at the Dallas Police Department?” Johnson concluded.

“It stops with me,” Hall replied. “And ultimately, my boss … T.C. Broadnax”

Though Hall had not verbalized what she thought DPD had done wrong or ways they could improve. The one act of violence by a law enforcement officer that she was able to confirm – in which a man’s jaw was broken – she stated was likely an officer from Garland or Irving and was still under investigation.

However,  Broadnax later informed City Council that he and Hall had met to discuss what changes needed to be made. His full statement can be read at http://www.dallasexaminer.com, under Local News.

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