The Dallas City Council last week replaced the Citizens Police Review Board with the Community Police Oversight Board. On the surface, this seems nothing more than meaningless wordplay. Yet underneath, it is a transformative step toward 21st-century policing and public safety.
Accountability is about transparency, not punishment. Oversight is about collaboration, not disempowerment. The oversight board will not diminish Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall's authority over the police department. She has remained steadfast in her duty to protect her officers from legal or administrative jeopardy. By also championing the citizens DPD serves, Hall has shown the courage to usher in a new era of community engagement that eluded her 28 predecessors.
In the aftermath of the vote, many deservedly received praise for their contributions. But one group was critical to this historic success: the citizens of Dallas. Make no mistake, they manifested this.
Suffering voiceless, they sought recourse. Asked to leave, they stayed. Told to sit, they stood. Ordered to remain silent, they shouted. Their tenacity transcended parochial gain to serve the greater good. Now their reward is an essential step toward making Dallas a model of public safety, progress and unity.
I joined the Citizens Police Review Board in December 2017 and voiced my hope for progress. It has been my privilege to work alongside memberswho volunteer to serve Dallas. We are attorneys, police officers, real estate agents and more, all appointed by their council members, and the chairman appointed by the mayor. Still, with all of this expertise and passion, our impact on public safety was negligible.
As chairman of the review board that was replaced, I applaud the citizens who worked for change. As a private citizen, I thank them. As an African-American man, I am grateful that the city my daughter calls home will be safer when she is of age to continue the work of social justice.
Some critics will attempt to paint proponents of reform as a monolithic extension of one individual, or dismiss them as not representative of Dallas. However, it is a false equivalence that a coalition pushing for progress must represent all of Dallas before we commit to change on their behalf.
And therein lies the lesson of this unanimous vote by the City Council. This was about much more than reforming or dismantling the review board. It was about more than choosing to side with civilians or police. Championing a just cause is always about more than ethnicity, class or district.
It's about the power we each possess to make a difference. It's about the faceless upstanders completing the work their Dallas predecessors began a generation ago. It's about the obligation of those of us with privilege to speak on behalf of those without.
And it's about the impact of recognizing our shared humanity, locking arms with our neighbors and completing the march, together.
When the cause is just, no matter how imposing the mountain, you show up. No matter how contentious the debate, you stand up. And no matter how determined the opposition, you speak up. That is what it takes to end up on the right side of history as we bend its arc toward justice, peace and unity.
And sometimes that's what must be done for the voiceless to be heard. Dallas is better for it, and for that, we owe them thanks.
Brian H. Williams is chairman of the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board and a 2018 Dallas Morning News Community Voices Columnist.