David Brown has endured more than his share of ups and downs. But no event was more challenging for the former police chief of the City of Dallas than the tragic incident that occurred on July 7, 2016.
It was nearly a year ago that a lone enraged gunman – Micah Xavier Johnson – ambushed and killed four policemen of the Dallas Police Department and one policeman with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system, and also wounded nine officers and two civilians following a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest against police shootings of African-American males across the country. Although he retired last year after 33 years with the DPD, Brown has some reservations leading up to the one-year anniversary of one of the darkest days in the history of the city of Dallas.
“The biggest concern and my thoughts are with those families having to re-live this,” Brown said. “The grieving period is beyond a year, and it’s coming up on one year, and I know grief well based on the losing a partner, losing a brother and losing a son to tragedies.
“It comes in many shapes and forms, but time doesn’t heal the wounds of losing somebody you love. It doesn’t. My biggest concern and my thoughts are always going to be with those families.”
As Johnson was holed up in downtown Dallas in a small second-story room inside El Centro College where computer servers and wiring were stored, negotiation tactics couldn’t force him to peacefully give up. Then after nearly four hours, Brown made the controversial decision to send a motorized robot – armed with explosives – into the building to take down Johnson.
Although the rare move was successful – killing Johnson and stopping the carnage – Brown was left to defend his actions.
“It’s only controversial to people that weren’t being shot,” Brown said. “It’s not controversial to the people who lost their husband, lost their son or lost their father.”
“But I understand people obviously concerned with weaponizing an armed robot, because it had never been done in American policing history. But this person was negotiated with for over three-and-a-half hours before we came to that conclusion, and during the negotiations he expressed that he wanted to kill more officers and expressed throughout negotiations that he was really excited about having already killed officers.
“So he had no remorse, there was no sense that it would end peacefully with him giving up, he had followed none of our directions. He had shot at us several times during those negotiations actually, trying to kill more officers. It’s just that we were in a covered position and didn’t lose any more officers.”
In the aftermath of the bloodbath, Brown was hailed somewhat of a hero following the way he calmed the fears of those in Dallas and soothed the collective minds of those around the country.
Brown announced his retirement about two months after the tragedy and now works on special projects with the Dallas Mavericks. He also works with the Mavs in a social entrepreneurial effort while looking for situations where sports entertainment can positively impact the community.
“Yes, it was very difficult, but it was time to retire,” said Brown, who additionally is a contributor for ABC News. “I had been a police officer for 33 years here in Dallas and gave all of my adult life to it. My family and I felt like there wasn’t any more we could do or give. So we were resolved to the fact that it was time for us to move on to the next phase of our life of serving the public as a private citizen.”
With the backdrop of a warm and thunderous ovation from the June 24 sellout crowd at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Brown threw out the first pitch at Dirk Nowitzki’s Heroes Celebrity Baseball Game. Also on the field at the time were family members of the fallen and injured officers of that unfortunate July 7 attack.
Nowitzki, the Mavs’ 13-time All-Star who was named the Twyman-Stokes Best Teammate of the Year winner at the NBA Awards in New York on June 26, marveled about Brown’s grace under pressure during a very difficult time in this country.
“He has incredible leadership, and that’s why we have him here and we honored him and we honored the families of the fallen police officers,” Nowitzki said. “It was a crisis for the city, and the way he held it together, the way he showed leadership, I think was something we can all learn from and all follow.
“And we’re very happy that we could honor him here and have him here as a special guest.”
A 1979 South Oak Cliff High School graduate, Brown, in fact, has been the guest on several talk shows across the country. For one, his tour across the United States is one where he’s expounding on the message he shares in his new book – Called To Rise – where Brown openly talked about growing up among poverty in South Oak Cliff and using education and his strong faith as a way to become a success and a guiding light to others.
But everyone also wants to know if Brown – the Dallas police chief the previous six years — will contemplate dabbling in the unpredictable world of politics.
“It’s not that I wouldn’t consider politics,” Brown said. “I don’t know that politics would consider me, and here’s why: You have to raise money, people donate — big spenders — donors give you a million dollars for your campaign in order to be able to run for office nowadays, but I wouldn’t vote a certain way just because you gave me a million dollars, so you’d want your money back from me, because I’m not going to vote a certain way. Nor am I going to disagree with somebody in a different party just because I’m in a different party than you, so my own party would kick me out because I would be supporting somebody from a different party.”
“So I have two big reasons why politics wouldn’t consider me, not that I wouldn’t consider politics. It’s that I’ve got some principles, you can’t buy me to vote a certain way, and I would agree with somebody that’s of a different party. I’m not so divided in my thinking that I can’t let somebody else be right.”
As far as his book goes, Brown, an immensely private person, admits it was difficult to reveal some personal things, but those admissions have provided some healing. Particularly since Brown opens up about how on Father’s Day in June of 2010, his son – who suffered from a bipolar disorder — killed a Lancaster police officer and another man, and was subsequently killed by another police officer that same day.
“It ended up being therapeutic,” Brown said of the book. “I was holding it all in, and through writing the memoir, Called To Rise, I saw how not only my Christian faith and my public service and my love for the community groomed me from the earliest moments of my life. And that what my mother had taught me, grandparents and great-grandparents had taught me, and all the opportunities that would present itself to me, were all in preparation – including the tragedies – in preparation for me to serve other people.”
Brown steadfastly believes it was God’s will to have him as Dallas’ chief of police during last year’s crisis. He believes it was his calling.
“I think prepared, born, shaped, mentored – all of the things that I had lived professionally and personally was the preparation to be able to handle a crisis of this nature, which is the most tragic event in American policing since 9/11,” Brown said. “More officers than any other event since 9/11 were lost in this one incident. “
And that one incident forever changed Brown, setting off a range of emotions.
“Obviously you don’t think anything good can come out of a tragedy,” Brown said. “You always think that I’m just going to be depressed about this and that there can be no positive thing that happens, but actually the opposite is true.”
“My faith tells me that – that if we would trust the Good Lord that He will use our most difficult times in our lives for the betterment of other people. So if you’re willing to try to make something good out of a tragedy, you’ll be surprised how much more energy and sense of urgency you have to serve other people if you’re able to just trust that some good can come out of a tragedy.”
Although he has left the world of law enforcement behind him, Brown will continue to serve others. He currently sits on various boards, including one that assists in early childhood education funding, and another that helps the mentally ill.
In addition, Brown and his family have packed up and left Dallas and moved to New York.
“I pinch myself every morning — I’m on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (in New York),” Brown said. “Every day – it’s a walkable city – so we walk to Times Square, we go to all the (Broadway) shows, we’ve seen Hamilton, and it’s just an unbelievable thing.
“God has blessed me more than I thought possible – I’m living out that true meaning of my faith. But I’m not forgetting that serving others is going to be my priority.”
And David Brown also won’t ever forget what happened on July 7, 2016. Sadly, that night has become part of his legacy.