DALLAS – Even though they were strapped financially, the Dallas Police Department searched high and low for a nice venue to hold their Night of Honor awards ceremony, a ceremony which would honor the many officers personally involved in a nationally-publicized tragedy in downtown Dallas on July 7, 2016.
That search ended at the doorsteps of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Unbeknownst to interim Dallas chief of police David Pughes, while he was looking for a place to respectfully honor his officers, Cuban was looking for a way to graciously help the officers in some special way. As it turned out, the DPD held its Night of Honors on Thursday night before a crowd of over 400 at American Airlines Center with a star-studded dinner that included police officers, their families, friends and local dignitaries – and Cuban funded the entire proceedings.
“It was like an angel had called because we didn’t quite know what we were going to do and how we were going to be able to recognize this many officers for their heroic actions,” Pughes said. “So the timing of Mark offering up this and taking care of this for the Dallas Police Department was absolutely amazing. I think all of us are just so thankful, because we know that it literally would not have happened without Mark. So it’s incredible and it means a lot.”
A year ago today following a peaceful Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in downtown Dallas, a lone gunman ambushed and killed four DPD officers and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system police officer. Not only did the event shake the Dallas/Fort Worth area to its knees, but it resonated throughout the country.
As the outpouring of respect ensued, Pughes wanted to pay his respects not only to the five officers who were killed, but to the many others who ran to the shooting in pursuit of the gunman while civilians rightfully were running away and seeking cover. Thus, some 100 officers were honored Thursday for their heroic acts in a pleasant setting – thanks to the Mavs.
David Brown, who was the DPD chief of police when the ambush occurred, helped facilitate Thursday’s event. Brown retired about two months after last year’s tragedy and currently works on special projects with the Mavs. He also works with the Mavs in a social entrepreneurial effort while looking for situations where sports entertainment can positively impact the community.
“Mark Cuban reached out to me and asked what could he do to help remember the officers that sacrificed their lives last year, and I made contact with the interim chief, David Pughes, to ask if there was anything that needed to be done to help get through the day that could encourage the officers and keep the morale up,” Brown said. “The department was planning an awards program for (Thursday), but didn’t have a facility, didn’t have money for a real nice dinner and they were wanting to award all the officers that displayed heroism last July.
“They’ve been holding it back because they’d been wanting a big-time displaying of appreciation for these officers’ efforts. People had made exceptional shields for protesters who were shot and survived, many acts of heroism of officers running towards bullets when the sniper was shooting people, and kind of really showing courage and bravery, so all those officers (were) rewarded (Thursday).”
Cuban, who has opened his wallet and offered financial support on several different projects across DFW since he purchased the Mavs on Jan. 4, 2000, simply said it was just the right thing to do to totally fund Thursday’s event.
“The Dallas Police Department put their lives on the line for all of us every day,” Cuban said. “Given what happened July 7, 2016, I wanted to support any event that allowed the department and their families to come together. I feel we can never do enough to help our officers given how much they risk for all of us in Dallas. We are proud to be supportive.”
From the DPD’s perspective, the support is heartfelt as they try and cope with the darkest day in the department’s history.
“This is phenomenal,” said DPD sergeant Ivan Gunter, as he surveyed the numerous tables that were adorned with freshly-minted white table clothes and the accompanying fine place settings. “It shows a real partnership with the business community and with Mr. Cuban and with the police department.
In all, a whopping 14 police officers received the medal-of-honor for their bravery on July 7, 2016. By contrast, the DPD has issued just 28 medals-of-honor for bravery since 1952.
“The city was adversely affected (by the killings) — not just the police department – the entire Metroplex,” Gunter said. “Everyone feels this.”
“This is not easy and we will not get over this any time soon. But as a city we’ve shown our resiliency, we’ve come together and we’re healing. We have a long road to go, but we’re on the right path, we’re communicating more and more daily, and we’re working towards a common goal, which is improving our neighborhoods and our community as a whole.”
Pughes was adamant in explaining the grace and mercy displayed by total strangers across Dallas and the world in the aftermath of the tragedy.
“We’ve had some good support for the officers prior to the tragedy, but after the tragedy I think we really saw the community come together and their feelings toward the police department were incredible,” Pughes said. “I don’t think anybody throughout the country saw or experienced in their city what we were able to experience with support from our community — it was amazing and it still exists today. A year later we go to so many things and the support is still there. So it’s important that we understand that support and do everything to keep their support and keep their trust.”
The irony of July 7, 2016 is that the BLM protest in downtown Dallas was in response to recent killings of African-American men by white police officers in Minneapolis, MN, and Baton Rouge, LA. In essence, no one could even imagine that the gunman in the Dallas tragedy – Micah Xavier Johnson – would do the unthinkable.
“We were in shock when it happened and I think we’re in shock today,” Pughes said. “I think the Dallas Police Department hasn’t experienced some of the things that those other cities have experienced that have caused the protests and the communities to be upset.”
“We have to understand that people see law enforcement as a unified force throughout the country, and that’s not the case. We all operate differently, and the Dallas Police Department strives to do everything professionally and do it in a manner that really serves our citizens. The protest that night was about things that occurred in other states outside of Texas — much less not in the city of Dallas — and yet our folks ended up paying the ultimate price.”
The healing process, Brown acknowledges, takes time. Especially considering the number of lives lost, families, friends and co-workers affected by the senseless tragedy.
“Dallas was really having an outpouring of support to show officers how they feel about them and that they really appreciate their sacrifice and the things they do to protect them,” Brown said. “So that (incident was) really, really heartbreaking.
“We had done everything right, we had really put forth a strong effort to connect with our communities, our communities responded in kind with support for the department, and to have a sniper try and create a divided city with his violence really was a tough slap in the face. It was hurtful more than anything, such pain for these families and for the officers and really for the country looking at the ultimate sacrifices these five officers made is just hard to remember. But we’re so proud of the professionalism of the department. It really is the best department in the country in my opinion, bar none.”
Even though the scars of July 7, 2016 will remain for many years to come, Gunter clings to the many expressions of kindness citizens have shown while he’s on the job.
“I work in some of the more economically challenged areas in Dallas, and to have someone from those communities come up to me and say, ‘We’re glad you’re here, thank you, we feel your pain,’ that’s a total turnaround from what you’d expect,” Gunter said. “And I’m trying to communicate that don’t believe every image, believe the people.”
“We are a growing vibrant community, a diverse vibrant community, but we communicate, we have respect, we have regard. And again, to see all of this play out the way it did is so NOT like this city. This is solely alien, but to see how the city’s trying to communicate and embrace and heal provides hope.”
Pughes, Brown and Gunter kept repeating how Cuban generously stepped forward and helped with the healing by unilaterally embracing the DPD during their ultimate time of need.
“If it wasn’t for Mark Cuban, pro bono, giving us the American Airlines Center, and the food, the funding to put the program on, the department would have been unable to show the appreciation to officers,” Brown said. “So a big thank you to Mark Cuban for even thinking about wanting to help us.”
“What a great example of how the community in Dallas has stepped forth and really displayed a great appreciation for Dallas cops. We’ve got to let people know – and that ought to be recognized – because Mark Cuban, on his own, reached out to me and asked how he could help.”