By MIKE MCGEE
The Dallas Examiner
When Texas State Rep. Lorraine Birabil helped lead the #SayTheirNames demonstration at Freedman’s Memorial Cemetery June 3, she noted that it was a moment for leaders to not just speak out, but listen up as well.
“There were many people who participated who told me ‘Thank you.’ They felt like they wanted to have an opportunity to have their voice heard, and in their opinion, hadn’t really had a format where they felt comfortable with doing that prior to our event.”
The Democrat representative for Dallas stood with residents and other notables to support changes in policing amid the surge of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd public gatherings and protests.
“I think a lot of times people look at our … African American community in a certain way. There’re definitely people who unfortunately do not see members of the African American community as human,” she affirmed.
“There are some who denigrate the community, look at members of the community as thugs or all sorts of things, but essentially less than human, so I thought it was a really great way to humanize our community for people to see us as who we are – which are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, children, siblings, but also professionals and also people who are doing essential work. We really span the gamut in terms of our involvement in this country and our role in allowing this country to be what it is today.”
Birabil, who has lived in the district for 20 years, voiced that she was happy with the number of people who turned out to meet at the historical landmark, and is focusing her attention on her See Something Say Something bill becoming part of a larger solution towards improving the balance between law enforcement and the public’s trust.
The representative hopes that her bill will raise the bar for safe conduct within the rank of police departments.
“The intent is to tear down the blue wall,” she pointed out. “Just as they ask us, when we see something out in the community, call the police or report it, we’re simply asking them to do the same thing. An officer sees their colleague engaged in police violence, brutality, misconduct, it would create a statewide statutory requirement that they report that.”
She went a step further as she reflected on the three officers who failed to intervene during Floyd’s arrest and subsequent death in the viral video from Minneapolis.
“And we need to build in protections in that legislation that protects the whistleblowing officers. But it’s that culture of silence, and we know all too well unfortunately in the George Floyd case, silence is complicity.”
“All of us, all Americans, we have to re-imagine what public safety is,” she remarked as she spoke on re-allocating police funding at a local level in addition to the potential within her bill in Austin. She also touched upon the concept of allyship, as she views the current public involvement in the culture shift as similar to the work, and importance, of the earlier Civil Rights era.
“There are people outside the African American community who are standing with our community who are saying ‘We acknowledge that there is systemic racism and we know that we have to have structural change,’ because, as many have put before, there was a clash between All Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter. And I think now, in terms of the general community, in terms of the American family, there is a realization and awakening that ‘all lives matter’ can’t happen until Black lives matter. The issue of police brutality is also personal to me.”
In 2013, Birabil’s father, Christian, a retired neuroscientist, was arrested after an encounter with Dallas Police, which she recorded. Though Birabil was a congressional staffer for U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey at the time, she said she was also arrested while recording her father being beaten.
In 2016, U.S Magistrate Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez dismissed both cases. However, she admits that the experience is still triggering to both her father and to herself.
Despite her unease, she has continued to strive to make meaningful change as an elected representative of the people.
“We have a lot of things and issues that we’re dealing with in the community and so [I am] just doing everything I can to be as helpful as I can,” she admitted.
Yet, she has continued her work through the legislative system and public appearances, for individuals like George Floyd.
“No one deserves to be horizontally lynched and murdered the way he was by that police officer,” Birabil insisted.