Law enforcement and religious leaders on Monday debated the amount of change seen in Dallas after the death of George Floyd, as the Minneapolis police officer accused of killing Floyd was about to go on trial.
Dallas saw 100 days of demonstrations over police brutality and social justice reform after the 2020 death, which was seen on video around the world.
Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall, who headed the department last summer, was at the front of one demonstration, along with Black Police Association of Greater Dallas Union President Terrance Hopkins.
The latest news from around North Texas.
“Substantial change has occurred. When we were going through the 100 nights plus of protest, Chief Hall did, she enacted some immediate things right away,” Hopkins said.
Among those changes was a duty to intervene policy that punishes officers who do not speak up about misconduct they witness, a policy against the use of tear gas on peaceful protestors and a reinforced policy against the use of chokeholds on suspects.
Tonya McClary is the Dallas police monitor and runs the office of police oversight.
“I'm getting the sense that the police department is trying to be more transparent,” McClary said.
She attended many of the demonstrations and found public outrage with the Floyd video and the call for social justice change was stronger than what she had ever seen before.
“I think it had something to do with the pandemic. People were in their homes, in front of their TVs and literally saw a man be killed before their eyes. And so, it just really motivated people in a way we haven’t seen in a very long time,” McClary said. “We're hoping that it's lasting change. We're hoping that, at this point in time, people aren't going to go backward. And we're going to do everything we can to ensure that.”
Two prominent Dallas ministers have differing views on the extent of the change that has occurred.
Pastor Frederick Haynes of Friendship West Baptist Church also participated in some of the demonstrations.
“Baby steps? I guess that's progress,” Haynes said.
In a new city budget last fall, Dallas City Council members did support additional spending on community blight, mental health, substance abuse and ex-offender support to help address the root causes of crime. But the overall police budget remained largely the same as city officials sought to curb an increase in violent crime.
Haynes and other demonstrators called for defunding police to pay for more reform. Haynes said real transformation requires far more spending on underserved neighborhoods and social programs.
“When you are far behind in the race for justice and you’re taking baby steps, the question becomes are we really serious about winning the race,” Haynes said. “We’re more concerned about tweaking what is, instead of transforming it into what it should and could be.”
Pastor Richie Butler of St. Luke’s Community United Methodist Church said there was still room for improvement but he sees opportunity at this moment.
“And I believe yes, there has been constructive change,” Butler said.
Butler cited a new push for diversity in corporate board rooms and new community investment in historically overlooked neighborhoods. Butler said the investment comes with commitment about seeing the dollars flourish long term.
“Before George Floyd's murder, that wasn't on the table. It is now on the table. And those of us who've been in this space fighting for social justice and racial equity, we need to grab what's on the table and really move this agenda forward,” Butler said.
Hopkins said the progress comes even as challenges increased.
“We have gone through some of the most difficult times in our lifetime in the past year. So, I think we’ve made some good changes and I agree there’s plenty more to come,” Hopkins said.
The leaders agreed the test now is how much lasting change comes as the result of what progress they have seen.
The start of jury selection for the trial of former Minneapolis officer Derrick Chauvin was delayed by a judge Monday as new charges were being added to the case as an option for jurors. The trial was still expected to begin soon.