For the past twenty years I’ve lived in Austin, Texas, but I was born in Dallas and grew up in a suburb, Plano, so I know Dallas well.
In fact, after beginning my law career in Washington, D.C., I moved back to Dallas and practiced there for several years. For a couple of those years, I worked at a law firm located in what is now the Bank of America Plaza building. To those familiar with the Dallas skyline, it’s the tall building outlined at night in neon green.
So last week, when I turned on the television and saw the terror and chaos descending upon Dallas, I knew the location well. Seeing something so awful happening in a place where you once spent so much of your time was quite surreal.
Knowing the area, it also struck me how so much senseless tragedy has struck one large American city in such a small few blocks of that city. Just around the corner from the tragedy unfolding last Thursday night is the Texas School Book Depository and Dealey Plaza. This is, of course, the place where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Growing up, it was the one single place that seemed to define Dallas.
For so much of my early life, I was well aware that whenever I shared with outside strangers that I lived in Dallas, there was a noticeably unpleasant association with that American tragedy. It wasn’t until I was in my mid to late teens that the television show Dallas and the success of the Dallas Cowboys, while not in any way wiping away the earlier tragedy, at least presented a different image of the city than the scar left by Lee Harvey Oswald.
The shooting of Dallas police officers and killing of five of them on Thursday night was another American tragedy, but for the city of Dallas I believe it will leave an entirely different mark on the city than the events of November 22, 1963.
That’s because of the tremendous example demonstrated by members of the Dallas community.
Standing out among these is Dallas Police Chief David Brown whose own life story, actions during the tragedy, and quiet reflection afterwards was truly amazing. His should serve as an example to others in similar roles throughout the country. He didn’t pull any punches. He addressed the problem and possible solutions with one of his best lines, “We’re hiring. Get out of that protest line and put in an application. We’ll put you in your neighborhood and help you resolve some of those problems.”
Also impressive were the Parkland Hospital doctors and nursing staff at a press conference on Monday. If you know your history, you probably remember Parkland. It’s the hospital where President Kennedy was taken after he was shot. Standing out among the Parkland doctors was Dr. Brian Williams, a trauma surgeon on duty who is black. His reflections were particularly poignant saying, “There’s this dichotomy where I’m standing with law enforcement, but I also personally feel and understand the angst that comes when you cross the paths of an officer in uniform and you’re fearing for your safety. I’ve been there. But for me, that does not condone disrespecting or killing police officers.”
He added, “I think about it every day that I was unable to save those cops when they came here that night. This killing, it has to stop—black men dying and being forgotten, people retaliating. We have to come together and end all this.”
Finally, there is President George W. Bush who makes Dallas his home. Giving one of his best addresses ever, he observed, “At times, it seems like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates too quickly into dehumanization. Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our own best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”
In 1963, Dallas suffered a wound as a city that to this day hasn’t entirely healed. This week, the city experienced another horrible blow but the example of its leaders and citizens was an important part of the healing process and will serve as a tremendous example to the rest of the nation.
For that reason, I’m extremely proud to count myself a Dallasite.