by Rob Crain
This month we mark the one year anniversary of the attack in Downtown Dallas that left 5 officers dead and 11 others wounded. July 7, 2016, was the deadliest incident for U.S. law enforcement since the September 11 attacks. The shooter was reportedly upset over recent shootings of black men by police officers. The shooting happened at the end of a protest against the recent police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
In the moments and days that followed, Mayor Mike Rawlings and then Dallas Police Department Chief David Brown led our city, and the nation, with dignity, candor, and maturity that helped dissuade more violence. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush set the tone for healing at an emotional memorial service. They called for unity, as did leaders across the nation. Locally, there were immediate efforts to bring people of all colors together in healing. Faith leaders from different religions held interfaith services and promised to follow up with continued efforts. There was strong energy for action—to use the emotion of the moment to make lasting change in race relations.
The core sister Bar Associations in Dallas—Dallas Bar Association, J.L. Turner Legal Association, Dallas Hispanic Bar Association, Dallas Asian American Bar Association, Dallas Women Lawyers Association, Dallas LGBT Bar Association, and Dallas Association of Young Lawyers—came together for a Unity Luncheon at the Belo Mansion just days following the shooting. They presented a Joint Resolution calling for unity, and for action. The Associations committed to “open our minds to be more understanding of others and to use our training and words to bring others together to open their minds.”
To honor this commitment, this year the Dallas Bar Association partnered with the Year of Unity, an effort led by Reverend Richie Butler, Senior Pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church. One component of the Year of Unity is Together We Dine, a series of opportunities for people to come together to discuss race over dinner. Among other things, the DBA provides facilitators for these discussions. At press time for this column, we are just days away from our third event on June 20. Highland Park United Methodist Church is hosting 176 participants for 22 separate table discussions with people from all parts of our community. In April, Dean Royal Furgeson and UNT School of Law hosted students from SMU, Paul Quinn College and UNT Law. In January, we joined the Dallas Dinner Table program where 600 people met at various locations in Dallas and surrounding suburbs.
The focus of these discussions is first and foremost on listening. The premise behind the program is that we all think differently because we come from different backgrounds and experiences. The only way for us to appreciate why somebody thinks differently is to listen to them so that we can understand why they have a different perspective; by listening, and then coming to this appreciation, we almost always realize that what unites us is much greater than what divides us.
In a recent editorial for the Dallas Morning News discussing police-minority relations, Chief Brown wrote, “I do not pretend to know everything about these issues. I’m aware that I have enormous blind spots, that I don’t know what I don’t know…But from where I stand now, I do know far more than I did when I started out on this journey more than three decades ago.” He concludes, “I am clear about one thing. We will make progress only when we set aside our assumptions and really start listening to each other, now more than ever.”
I participated in the first two events, and will do so again in the coming days. They are searing events. I heard and saw things that will not leave me. I listened to people describe their first realizations of racism, moments as young children where hateful or ignorant words let them know that people looked at them differently because of their skin color. They will never forget those moments; and now, nor will I. I watched white students from SMU and black students from Paul Quinn openly debate how racial incidents were handled at their respective schools. In their discussion, the students disagreed, they debated, but they also listened. Though no personal opinions were changed, the beautiful conclusion to the discussion came when they all agreed that the proper approach to the incidents on campus should have been students sitting around a table and listening to each other, just as they were doing on this evening. They recognized that by talking, and more importantly listening, about why they disagreed, they learned there was substance behind the other person’s perspective, and that the substance was not flippant or hateful but rather thoughtful and reasonable.
I am a middle-aged white man from University Park. I have more blind spots than most. We all have blind spots. Lawyers are no exception, but I believe lawyers bring an asset to these discussions. Lawyers often represent people in conflict with others. Lawyers have to advise their clients that jurors come from different backgrounds and experiences, that jurors may think differently and may see the same evidence and reach a different conclusion. The role lawyers play in their profession is similar to the role facilitators play in the Together We Dine discussions.
In the year after the horrific shootings in the streets of Dallas, action has followed. The Year of Unity has added numerous partners and influential leaders while organizing unique ways for people to gather and discuss race. Faith leaders have kept their pledge to bring different looking congregations together. In the recent Conference of the Professions, faith leaders joined lawyers and physicians to focus on race. In addition to its work with Together We Dine, the Dallas Bar Association will host at least three programs on implicit bias in 2017, and will host a luncheon with faith leaders at the Belo on September 15 to discuss race. There will be a Together We Dine event in the Fall.
There remains a hunger in our city for better race relations. Whether as an attendee or as a facilitator, we need you in these discussions. Whether it is part of the Together We Dine experience, or in casual discussions with friends, family, lawyers, members of your place of worship, or more importantly, with people who do not look like you, we need your heart, mind, mouth, and ears engaged on race. If you are interested in participating, please email Charlene Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our city is rich in diversity. Together, our differences bring fullness to life. Together, our city is stronger.