Dallas could lead the nation in police-minority relations, but we have work to do
Shortly after midnight on July 5, 2016, I was probably lying peacefully in my bed, sound asleep. Around that time in Baton Rouge, La., Alton Sterling was restrained on the ground with a gun pointed at his head. "I'll kill you, bitch" were among the last words officers directed toward him prior to his death. With race as a flash point, the cycle of violence escalated in Dallas two days later when our police were on the receiving end of an assassin's gun.
In Baton Rouge, an opaque accountability process and inexplicable outcome have allowed another group of officers to walk free inside a recurring nightmare that fuels anger, frustration and public distrust of law enforcement. However, I believe Dallas is uniquely positioned to serve as a model to the nation and change this narrative by turning this angst into positive action.
As the newly appointed chairman of the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board, I have agreed to help bridge the chasm of distrust between the Dallas Police Department and the citizens it serves. In working with DPD leadership, City Hall and community leaders, I see that the commitment to progress is undeniable. Now, the recently announced outcome of Alton Sterling's death serves as an unwelcome reminder for why our task is urgent.
In the aftermath of the Dallas police shooting, my anguished public statements condemning violence while highlighting my duality as a black medical professional treating the wounded officers drew hate-filled rebuke. A retired police chief sent an email stating I was unqualified to care for police officers. A white man wrote that I should no longer be permitted to care for white people. And a black man said to me "I'm glad you let those cops die."
To be clear, the response from law enforcement and citizens of all races was overwhelmingly positive. However, these responses show that much work still needs to be done. Dallas must lead the way.
Recently, a frustrated officer asked a Dallas Morning Newsreporter, "why does everyone hate us?" For a public servant to feel that devalued is disheartening. It is important to realize many people of color in Dallas and around the country feel the same — the difference being that in the course of their jobs, police officers are empowered to kill in response to perceived danger.
To ease the minds of citizens, we must ensure that the public trust we know is the foundation of public service aligns with our actions and policies. When that trust is eroded, repair is necessary.
Yet, we currently rely on a model of police oversight developed during the Great Depression. It is a model Dallas adopted in 1981, decades after it was abandoned by other comparable cities that deemed it ineffective. Improving police oversight and community relations is about partnership, trust and progress.
Dallas is at a unique time in history where our city can show the nation true leadership in forging partnerships between the community and law enforcement. To do so will require individuals and groups to have the courage to have difficult, honest conversations about accountability.
To heal the wounds of distrust, the hope is that Dallas will reckon with its painful history, not hide from it. That we can move forward as partners, not adversaries. That we can model a system that is effective and sustainable.
That we can show the nation #DallasStrong is more than a slogan emblazoned on a T-shirt.
Dr. Brian H. Williams is a trauma surgeon who treated Dallas police officers after the July 7, 2016, ambush. He is also chairman of the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board and a Dallas Morning News Community Voices columnist.