By Jacquielynn Floyd
Dallas Morning News
8 July 2016
Dallas Police Chief David Brown is not an especially polished speaker. He doesn’t love the cameras; he doesn’t always have carefully prepared remarks ready to deliver with a politician’s effortless grace. When he can, he leaves it to somebody else.
That makes his remarkable performance on what was surely the most anguished day in the Dallas Police Department’s history so moving, and so persuasive. In the hours after five officers – four Dallas policemen and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer – were murdered by a deranged sniper, Brown’s delivery was pitch-perfect, unrehearsed and straight from the heart.
“We are heartbroken. There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred in our city,” Brown told reporters early Friday, less than eight hours after his officers were mowed down while escorting a peaceful protest through downtown Dallas.
“All I know is that this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens.”
With those words, he spoke for every police department in America – many of which have far worse relationships with their minority communities than ours.
“We don’t feel much support most day,” he said. “Let’s don’t make today most days. We need your support.”
The nobility in that direct appeal was profound. If he had responded with tough talk about hunting ’em down, vowed vengeance, assigned blame, it would have been understandable, given the depth of the tragedy.
If he felt such rage, Brown kept it to himself. He was matter-of-fact about the measures taken to negotiate with and ultimately kill the gunman.
The chief, a lifelong resident and 30-year DPD veteran, is experienced in the ways of the city’s frequently strident politics. He has detractors on the City Council; he has critics in the department; he knows the ego-bruising realities of his position.
And it’s no secret that he has had his share of personal tragedies, some directly involving police. In 2010, when Brown was less than two months into his tenure as chief, his adult son shot and killed two people – including a police officer.
There were none-too-subtle calls for Brown to step down; the merciless publicity was clearly a torment to a man who describes himself as self-described “loner” who guards his privacy.
Earlier in his career, Brown’s longtime patrol partner was shot and killed. His own brother was a homicide victim, reportedly at the hands of drug dealers.
But you can’t be vaccinated against tragedy. Past suffering will not make you immune to more, which was clear in Brown’s appeal Friday.
In spite of that grief, the chief articulated, in remarkably few words, the vision of the role of police in our society that we all want, that we all agree on.
If stronger security measures are needed to protect officers, he said, then that’s what they’ll do. But he also described his own officers’ heroism in very human terms.
He described the terrifying street scene Thursday, when “some of the bravest men and women you’d ever want to be associated with” rushed not away, but toward the gunfire in an effort to protect the demonstrators – who were there to protest police shootings of civilians in other cities.
In his own low-key way, Brown has worked in recent years to create the kind of police force that will at least ease, if not end, the divisiveness that created so much bitterness in American communities.
His vision is not of warrior-cops girded for urban warfare but of “protectors” and “guardians” keeping us safe from chaos.
“We’re not going to let a coward change our democracy,” Brown said. “Our city, our country [are] better than that.”
As with any long-tenured public official, Brown has seen ups and downs in his years with the department, and never more so than since becoming police chief.
As the hours passed and Thursday bled into Friday, Brown was enduring the worst workday of his career. His authority tempered with grief, he met it with uncommon candor and clarity.
Dallas didn’t deserve this tragedy. No city does. But it was fortunate to have David Brown in charge.