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Respected Civil Rights Leader Says:
“Dallas Needs Racial Dialog and Sensitivity Training”
Racism Still has Strong Undercurrent in Dallas
DALLAS- A Black Civil Rights activist says discriminating behavior, mistreatment of minorities in traffic stops by Dallas police officers and other employee issues point to the need to start serious dialog on racism and employee relations in the Dallas Police Department and Dallas City Hall.
“This is a city that needs to be put in touch with its own bigotry,” said longtime Civil Rights activist Peter Johnson. “There is a continuing pattern of denial, racial insensitivity, bigotry, racism and prejudices across the city's structure.”
Johnson was heavily involved in the Civil Right Movement in the south and marched and worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The call for change and dialog comes after the latest incident involving Dallas Police officer Robert Powell and NFL running back Ryan Moats over a traffic violation.
During the stop, Powell's conduct, words and behavior opened old wounds and revived notions that the city has its head in the sand when it comes to dealing with racism, race relations and sensitivity issues.
Perhaps District 14 Councilwoman Angela Hunt said the incident has shaken the faith of the public in police.
“The authority and power that comes with it require considerable restraint and good judgment, neither of which was displayed here,” Hunt said in her blog. “Maintaining the publics confidence that our police are there to serve and protect, not harass and bully, is paramount. That trust has been breached, and no apology, however sincere, can undo the irreparable harm done to this family and to the reputation of our police department. Powell's behavior indicate a lack of common sense and common decency, and he should not continue to serve on our police force.”
Hunt to date is the only Dallas city leader on record stating her distaste for the incident.
However, Johnson said it is a symptom of a greater problem flying under radar in Dallas.
“Racism is still too normal and too accepted in Dallas-Fort Worth,” Johnson said. “This reminds me of times in the 1950's. It simply should not be happening in a modern U.S. City in 2009.”
Even though Chief David Kunkle apologized for Powell's behavior and Powell later apologized, the fact remains that both the police department and city have issues that only professional sensitivity and race relations trainers can help resolve.
“The apologies and humility are not good enough,” he said. “There is a white insensitivity to Black and Hispanics and that needs to change at the department level and the training levels in the police academy.”
The incident also opens wounds about the numerous EEOC and Justice Department complaints logged against the city by its own employees.
“Complaints at the city are at an all time high and that points to real problems,” he said. “There are problems between Black and Whites and at the heart of the problem is racial insensitivity.”
Perhaps Dallas should consider increasing dialogs on race. That has been the call to every American by new U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
According to Holder, America still has problems dealing with race issues and the only way to make a difference and change the current undercurrent of hatred and resentment and hidden feeling is dialog.
Holder said. “To respect one another we must have a basic understanding of one another. And so we should use events such as this to not only learn more about the facts of black history but also to learn more about each other.
This will be, at first, a process that is both awkward and painful but the rewards are potentially great. The alternative is to allow to continue the polite, restrained mixing that now passes as meaningful interaction but that accomplishes little. Imagine if you will situations where people- regardless of their skin color- could confront racial issues freely and without fear.
The potential of this country, that is becoming increasingly diverse, would be greatly enhanced. I fear however, that we are taking steps that, rather than advancing us as a nation are actually dividing us even further.
We still speak too much of "them" and not "us".
Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters and that is why those, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief in easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, are embraced.
We are then free to retreat to our race protected cocoons where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made. If we allow this attitude to persist in the face of the most significant demographic changes that this nation has ever confronted- and remember, there will be no majority race in America in about fifty years- the coming diversity that could be such a powerful, positive force will, instead, become a reason for stagnation and polarization.”
According to Holder, talking to friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters can hasten the day when we truly become one America.
Dallas city officials have launched an investigation into the incident, but Johnson hopes that the city will have the courage to take Holder's advice, face its own demons, hire qualified people to help change the current culture and commit to doing the right thing.
“This process needs real discovery,” he said. “Dallas needs to look at themselves in the mirror, bring it out and deal with it.”