Friday, July 8, 2016

Yesterday.

Watching a city you love in chaos is a terrible feeling. I can't explain what it feels like.


The Old Red Museum, formerly the Dallas County Courthouse,
and the Criminal Courts building (left) on South Houston.
When 9/11 happened, I hadn't yet been to the places that would become covered in ash, housing those seeking protection as the towers fell. Had I, surely I would have felt a connection to the space itself.

Last night's chaos in Dallas is quite different.


I love Dallas. Part of my heart remains there. Specifically, I love the West End. I have spent a great deal of time there and in Oak Cliff (just on the other side of the I-35). Some of the nicest people I ever met I found there.


The last time I visited Dallas was in December of 2007, mere months before my health would permanently prevent me from traveling. It was, as it always is, charming and relaxed. The people were welcoming and the southern hospitality that you often hear about stuck in my mind. I happened to arrive the day of the Cotton Bowl and the city was bustling. It was a wonderful time to be in Dallas.



Old Red Museum and Texas School Depository (background)
and the Dallas County Civil Court (right) and Military Entrance
Processing Station (left).
When I first heard that shots had been fired into the crowd last night at the peaceful protest of recent police shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis-St. Paul, I immediately thought of how hard Dallas has worked to repair a reputation that for decades was tied to the highest profile shooting this country has ever known--the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I also remembered a piece I'd read in the Dallas Morning News not long ago in the wake of another police shooting about the practices the Dallas Police Department had adopted to attempt to prevent something happening like what had happened in Ferguson, New York City, Oakland, Baltimore, North Charleston, Cincinnati, Chicago, Cleveland and Minneapolis (at that time the shooting of Jamar Clark). However, I, unlike far too many in the crowd that were interviewed on cable news or those on social media, knew that something like this could happen in Dallas. Dallas is not insusceptible to what we're seeing across the country. And yes, this kind of chaos and violence has happened in Dallas before.


Bank of America tower and John F. Kennedy Memorial (left)
When we learned that one of the five officers killed last night was a DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) cop, I was taken back to a memory in 2004 when I visited Dallas for the very first time. I had walked from the area where this shooting took place, the West End, over the I-35 into East Oak Cliff, a borough of greater Dallas. After seeing a few places, having lunch and getting terribly lost, I found myself in an epic downpour. If you've ever been in Texas in the summer you will understand the kind of downpour I speak of. There I was in Oak Cliff on foot and quite a distance from where I needed to be when a city worker rolled up in his truck and asked me if I needed help. I was young, barely 19, and in a foreign city. He saw me and didn't hesitate to help me out. He delivered me to DART after allowing me to wait out the downpour and made sure I got on the right bus. I'll never forget his kindness when I think of that city.

Last night as I watched the press arrive with their cameras to the West End, I saw many familiar sights. From the ever present Omni Hotel to the Bank of America tower, it's courtyard a lovely place to read a book on a lunch break, from El Centro College to Belo Park, where the protest march began, and to the Greyhound station that I've walked past dozens upon dozens of times, it was the city I love unraveling in chaos.



From within the Kennedy Memorial.
The image that struck me the most was the image of the peaceful rally as it passed the John F. Kennedy Memorial. The irony of the moment could not be escaped. A shooting in Dallas, people running through the streets to get away and one of the structures that could have offered some protection was constructed in the memory of a man shot down in those very streets. Constructed in his memory, but not, as the marker reads, "to the pain and sorrow of death." 

As Dallas and this country go forward I have no idea what the future holds for us. I have no idea how we come together and stop this train we're on. What I hope is this: We must come to a place where we will not be ridiculed for both protesting the loss of innocent life at the hands of bad cops while simultaneously supporting the good men in blue and mourning their lives when they make the ultimate sacrifice to the communities they serve. We must find a way to live together with all our different views, experiences and beliefs.  What I hope for the city of Dallas is that they can rise from this tragedy as they did in 1963 and that it won't take decades for their reputation to be cleansed, removing from it the memory of violence. 


The words of another Kennedy, chiseled in stone at another memorial, come to mind now: "What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black."


May the city of Dallas, but not just the city of Dallas, also Baton Rouge, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Bristol, find peace in the hours and days ahead.