If America is broken when it comes to race relations, healing cannot begin without honest dialogue.
On Tuesday, truth was dished out in industrial-sized portions as the Mavericks assembled some of Dallas’ most respected and vocal civic leaders for what was called “Courageous Conversations” about the killing of George Floyd and the difficult aftermath.
Owner Mark Cuban and CEO Cynt Marshall organized the rally, which had a goal of helping all people listen, learn and unite.
The event featured more than a dozen speakers, including Dallas police chief Renee Hall, DISD superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, Mavericks’ assistant coaches Stephen Silas and Jamahl Mosley and former Mavs Sam Perkins and Cedric Ceballos.
It was a strong confirmation that people of all color have had enough and are hopeful about bonding together in the name of peace and justice.
None of the stories were more inspiring than that offered by Dallas police officer Ira Carter during the two-hour-plus gathering.
Carter is a 51-year-old sergeant on the Dallas police force and father of four who grew up in Mississippi. He graduated high school in 1988 and blacks and whites in his community were not allowed to attend the prom together. Not to mention Ku Klux Klansmen often could be seen marching down Main Street.
“Very racist,” he said. “So growing up, we knew as blacks in Mississippi, you kind of had to keep your mouth shut or you’d end up in the river. So I became a cop in Mississippi.”
While that was his calling, and has been ever since after he served more than a dozen years in the military on active duty and as a reservist. He’ll never forget one police incident that happened early in his career.
“I was pulling over a lady – I got a call that she was drunk driving,” Carter said. “It happened to be a white lady. And as I pulled her over, she’s drunk, she reeked of alcohol. And as I get ready to get out of the car, she spit in my face and called me the ‘N’ word. And I’m in full-fledged uniform.
“When it came time for us to go to court, she told the judge that she’d never been touched by a black man before and that’s why she spit. So they dismissed the charges because she’s a well-to-do white lady. And I understood then that my color was an issue. As a police officer, to this day, I’ve been pulled out of my car at gun point. Outside of this uniform, I’m still just another black man. So, it worries me that every time they find out I’m a cop, the first thing they say is: Oh, you’re a police officer. We’ll, why should that matter?”
The morning began with Cuban posing a question to the crowd of about 300. He said that President Trump was born in 1946, which meant he became eligible to vote in 1964.
“What year,” Cuban asked, “did black women get the right to vote.”
There were no correct answers from the crowd. It was 1965.
“Black women were not eligible to vote until 1965,” Cuban said. “So when we talk about systemic racism and we talk about challenges and overcoming the past, when half of the African-American community could not vote to change the country they live in, could not vote to change the states they live in, could not vote to change the cities they live in, is it any wonder that we need Courageous Conversations today?
“So I need all of us to really open up and talk to each other, even when it’s difficult. Even when it’s not something we’re comfortable with, particularly those of you who look like me, the white community because it’s hard to discuss race when you’re white. When people talk about white privilege, we get defensive.
“We’ll say: well, I have a lot of black friends. I can’t possibly be someone that takes advantage of white privilege. And it’s incumbent upon us to stop doing that because that doesn’t move us forward when we do that. And that’s part of having a courageous conversation. That’s what we’re here for today.”
Accountability was a major theme during the morning, which started out comfortably but heated up quickly as the sun rose high in the sky.
Police chief Hall said Dallas’ force – ninth largest in the country – has to do better, but also championed the fact that all police officers felt pain when they saw what happened to George Floyd.
“There are 800,000 law enforcement officers, men and women, in this country,” Hall said. “And we all watched one of our own put a knee on a black man’s neck with no regard for human life, with no empathy, wearing the same uniform we wear, upholding the same laws we uphold.
“And it made us all sick to our stomach. And so we recognize there is work to do. If we are truly going to fix the problems in our agencies, we have to have robust systems that allow us to identify those individuals whose actions perpetuate the behavior we saw on May 25th. We have to have a system in place that allows us to dismiss officers from our police departments and not have civil service boards bring them back. After we decide these individuals do not belong in our agencies, we need them to stay gone.”
But Hall knows that internal action also is needed on her’s and other’s police forces.
“If we’re going to have a courageous conversation, we must speak truth,” she said. “And so what is truth. It’s that law enforcement is rooted in the oppression of black America, that law enforcement was created for slave patrol. So the oppression of black people is where we begin. And though there have been many strides made over the years to rectify that, the culture . . . still exists today. And if we’re truly honest about it, we have to own it, we have to atone for it, we have to fix it and we have to move forward.”
Dr. Hinojosa told the story of how integration in DISD schools in 1971 changed the landscape – and also tabled the very situations that are front and center now.
“There were no suburbs in 1971,” he said. “Because of what we’re dealing with here, now, the suburbs exploded and we’ve been avoiding this conversation since 1971. And to me, it’s personal. All three of my boys were educated in DISD and two of them went to Ivy League schools. We knew the power of the public education.
“But Dallas has changed significantly. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Dallas was 65 percent white. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Dallas was 65 percent African-American. Today, Dallas is 70 percent Latino. The middle class has left Dallas ISD and it’s not just the whites. It’s the African-Americans and the Latinos. We don’t ever apologize for our demography. But we need to do better.”
Among those listening to the comments was Mavericks president of basketball operations and general manager Donnie Nelson.
While he has been heavily involved in the restart of the NBA season, Nelson also has taken a major interest in the marches and protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“Powerful, and long overdue,” he said of Tuesday’s rally. “I’m in pain, my family’s in pain, the team’s in pain, our country’s in pain and these are long overdue discussions and conversations. And let’s use this as a platform to get better individually, as an organization and as a nation. Some of the stories we’ve heard in house, not to mention the obvious travesties that have happened, have put a new spotlight on things. This could be an incredible time for our country.”
Nelson and Cuban were almost in unison when they were asked why this seems like a time when America might get it right when it comes to bridging gaps between people who might look different.
After all, outrage has bubble many times in the past, but history has repeated itself many times when it comes to racial unrest.
“Gen Z – younger millennials understand things differently,” Cuban said about why he’s optimistic. “Kids today that are raised on social media, their heroes come from all walks of life. And so not only do they have better chances to communicate, but they get more chances to see underneath the curtain.
“So when you saw the protests and marches, you saw just as many white kids and Hispanic kids as you did black kids. And that’s a major step in the right direction. Like everybody knows, kids aren’t born hating. It’s taught to them. Why different now? Because we can have the courageous conversations and really encourage white people to discuss race. Minorities have never had a problem discussing race. It’s the white community. And hopefully that’s the change that will happen now and really moves us forward.”
As Nelson added: “When you look at the marches and you see the diversity of peoples, I think everyone is just sick and tired of it. And this is not just young voices or old voices, it’s not just red, yellow, black and white voices, it’s all of our collective voices. That, to me, really gives me optimism and hope that we’ve got a brand new platform, by which we can attempt to get it right.”