City Hall Will Pay $15.5. Million to Have School Crossing Guards. Yesterday, the council approved a $15.5. million contract for three years for All City Management Services Inc., which will run the crossing-guard program.
McKinney Councilman Apologizes for Alleging Racial Profiling. The McKinney City Council voted 6-0 yesterday to approve a resolution that expressed disapproval of how council member La’Shadion Shemwell handled a traffic stop earlier this month, when he accused a white police officer of racial profiling for pulling his over for an alleged speeding violation. Shemwell brought forward the motion to censure himself. It doesn’t remove him from office and there is no added punishment.
Frisco Student Faces Felony Charge for Threats. A 14-year-old student was taken into custody after authorities suspected the student made a terroristic threat yesterday against Cobb Middle School. The kid could get two to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Body Found in White Rock Creek Identified. The body found earlier this month was identified as 39-year-old Eric Hall, but the medical examiner’s office hasn’t released an official cause of death. Hall, who went by Nicole, was described as a pioneer in Texas’ black transgender community. A vigil is being planned for Saturday.
Archaeology is an exciting topic. There’s the digging, the unearthing of evidence, and the exercise of imagination in reconstructing life on Earth hundreds and thousands of years ago, often based on fragmentary information. Currently there’s a sort of synchronicity occurring around the topic among the Dallas’ academic, cultural, and scientific institutions.
At the beginning of the year, the Nasher Sculpture Center mounted an exhibition titled “First Sculpture: Handaxe to Figure Stone.” The show was comprised of stone artifacts, some dating back more than 2 million years. Director Jeremy Strick said public response to the show was marked by “high visitation, significant repeat visitation, as well as an unusually high number of visitors who had traveled to Dallas expressly to see the exhibition.” One feature of the show that proved especially important, he said, was the ability of visitors to handle several of the objects. “Comments from visitors reflected both a fascination with the objects presented and ideas broached by the show, and an appreciation for the installation.”
Earlier this month, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science reopened the Being Human Hall. It had been one of the original halls that debuted when the museum opened in late 2012. In an effort to keep content “fresh and relevant,” the hall has undergone a complete transformation, said spokesperson Becky Mayad. “The content developed in the exhibit tells a broad human origins story from millions of years ago through present day.” When asked if the Being Human Hall might have room for local archaeology, Mayad responded: “While the focus is on paleoanthropology, we do see the Human Journey more broadly and may address more archaeological and anthropological topics as our programming develops.” For now, museum-goers can view casts of fossil skulls, hands, and feet of some of the earliest human ancestors. In addition, there are a dozen authentic stone tool artifacts on display, some more than 1 million years old.
On May 26, the Perot is collaborating with the Nasher in hosting a “Handaxe Symposium.” According to the press release, special guest speaker Hilary Duke will discuss “the tools of our human ancestors,” focusing “specifically on how handaxes were made and used, and how studying these tools gives archaeologists a window into the social lives of our human ancestors.”
The show at the Nasher and the Perot’s reinvented Being Human Hall represent projects international in scope at top-tier, donor-supported museums. But no less impressive are the efforts underway at SMU to save local archaeology. There’s a flurry of activity surrounding SMU’s Archaeology Research Collections (ARC), though developments haven’t yet hit the press release stage. What follows is a preview of things to come.
Since the publication of my story on local archaeology in the December issue of D Magazine, “Where Dallas’ Oldest History Goes to Die,” momentum has been building and projects launched due in large part to the efforts of Dr. Sunday Eiselt and her highly motivated students. The energy and esprit de corps of SMU’s archaeology department has always been strong. The story, in some ways, is a bridging document that has reignited passions and prompted people to reconnect.
One person who has reconnected is Christy Bednar. She was married to Fred Wendorf at the time of his death and worked on excavations with him in Egypt. Since the beginning of the year, she’s been logging hours on campus in the archaeology lab. Eiselt said the benefits of having Bednar there are numerous. “In addition to being an incredible role model, she provides the authenticity and sincerity to our work that I cannot replicate for my students because she actually experienced this history, loved Fred, and she brings all of this to our work,” Eiselt says.
Outside the lab, students have been busy digitalizing archaeological records. For readers who’ve searched in vain for online issues of the publication of the Dallas Archaeological Society, The Record, search no more. For the last few months, SMU Digital Collections Librarian Cindy Boeke has been teaching students how to use scanning equipment to create archive-quality documents. According to Boeke: “We will begin uploading digitized issues of Dallas Archaeology Society’s The Record in August, and they will be freely accessible on the SMU Libraries Digital Collections website. We will continue adding issues on an incremental basis.”
Other developments were showcased at two on-campus events on May 7. The first event was a talk by Wilson “Dub” Crook on Clovis culture along the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, with an emphasis on Dallas County. The room in Heroy Hall was packed with students, archaeologists, and members of the general public eager to hear him discuss “The Role of the Upper Trinity Watershed in the Peopling of the Americas.” (Crook’s name may sound familiar; he is the person mentioned in the December article who grew up excavating sites with his father and R. King Harris.) At the second event of the day, an invitation-only gathering of alumni and friends of SMU archaeology, Crook made a surprise donation to ARC of $5,000.
The second event of the day took place in the atrium of Dallas Hall. Eiselt’s students—Rachel Burger, Bonnie Etter, Barrett Stout, Lauren King, Jordan Hardin, and Ryan Karakani—had set up discreet exhibitions that included artifacts, photos, text, and handouts. One exhibit set off in a nearby conference room demonstrated 3D scanning and first steps in creating online exhibitions of SMU-held artifacts. The students were also present to knowledgeably discuss each exhibit with attendees.
Eiselt said the exhibits are “what we are calling our Legacy Projects, collections from significant sites that are associated with important events, people, or places that were excavated at or around the time of the founding of our department in the 1960s.” The students, she said, chose their favorite collection from ARC storage and spent the semester on research as well as the development of displays capable of telling a more complete story for each.
The students succeeded; though exhibits were displayed in trays rather than vitrines, each was museum-quality. The group of about 70 attendees spent time viewing each one, and in some cases, handling actual artifacts. Near the conclusion of the event, Eiselt made an announcement. ARC, under her management, is headed to new heights: she publicly announced her intent for becoming a state-approved facility in the next one to five years, meaning SMU could accept local archaeology. It also means that to meet the standards for becoming such a facility, ARC needs to make substantial upgrades to its storage areas. Under her leadership, there have been great strides in stabilizing derelict shelving and collapsing boxes as well as creating usable indexes. And her students have proven they have the right stuff for organizing and preparing exhibits ready for off-campus display in partnership with other facilities.
Eiselt has the vision, human resources, and momentum to achieve her goal, but ARC needs financial help. If SMU given the nod by the Texas Historical Commission as an approved facility, she says, all types of grants and funding would be available that are currently off-limits. While it may not be fully visible yet, she is ready to take on stewardship of Dallas’ oldest history.
Got to hand it to the Commit Partnership, the local education nonprofit, for having at least the second best podcast in town. The latest episode of the Miseducation of Dallas County, published Thursday on the 64th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that kicked off the desegregation of public schools, is especially strong, and especially timely as the city is trying more often lately to reckon with the ugly and persistent reality of segregation.
Hosted by Josh Kumler, of Bar Politics fame, the podcast explores how Brown v. Board of Education played out in Dallas, and leads us into the present day, closing with an interview with Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa. Its premise, that federally mandated desegregation has failed to create integrated schools, holds up, and it’s worth exploring why.
The podcast features clips from a 1961 “pseudo-documentary” produced by the Dallas Citizens Council and aired the night before desegregated classes began, ostensibly to help what was once the most racist city in America integrate peacefully. But, as Kumler puts it,
…peaceful integration was never really the intention of this massive public relations campaign. It was, instead, the perception of peaceful integration, conveyed through carefully monitored newspaper editorials, overwhelming police presence, and, of course, a movie, meant to reassure an anxious city that:
“The changing face of Dallas will remain unscarred.”
All this, because the next morning, white elementary students at eight select schools would be joined by eighteen African Americans, all of whom were six years old.
The film, “Dallas at the Crossroads,” is striking in that it avoids any talk of “integration,” or the city’s moral duty to provide opportunity for all its residents. The Dallas businessmen who produced it, being Dallas businessmen, only urge the protection of private property, a stiff upper lip, and a little decorum to avoid the violence that accompanied desegregation in places like New Orleans and Little Rock. Violence is bad for business.
Our own Eric Celeste has written about the Mike Miles-initiated ACE program in DISD, for “Accelerated Campus Excellence.” Here’s how it works (from 2016):
[T]he program [is] designed to provide a more equitable distribution of teachers. Two years ago, Dallas and Houston ISDs each had 43 failing schools, accounting for about 30,000 students in each district. Today, Houston has 40 schools with about 32,000 students still found by the state to be failing. Dallas, largely because of ACE, has reduced its number to 22 schools, with about 16,000 students. In those failing schools, third through eighth-grade students improved by double-digit percentages in 13 of 14 state measures in just one year (e.g., 35 percent in fifth-grade math and 33 percent in eighth-grade science).
How did DISD produce these astonishing gains in some of its most impoverished schools? By getting the best teachers in front of those kids. Which means it had to do two things: fund the ACE program (teachers were given $8,000 to $10,000 bonuses to move schools) and identify the best teachers. The Teacher Excellence Initiative in fact showed that, before ACE, students at magnet schools—the best students—were 3.5 times more likely to have a distinguished teacher than kids who needed them most, the students at failing schools.
Mike Miles, you’ll recall, was pretty much run out of town.
So how are things looking today? Let’s take just one example, Blanton Elementary in Pleasant Grove. The STAAR test results have just been released, and Blanton fifth-graders did very well this year. Again. Their scores are up 67 percentage points over where they were before ACE started, just three years ago, and 82 percent of them scored at the TEA’s “Meets” grade level standard. The Blanton student body is almost entirely students of color who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. For years, it was one of the lowest-performing schools in the entire state. Now look at em. Here’s the chart; it doesn’t yet include this year’s results.
How good are the Blanton fifth-graders at math? Like I said, 82 percent met the TEA’s grade level standard. Over in Highland Park ISD, that number for fifth-graders is 79 percent.
One more thing. The fifth-grade math teacher at Blanton? That would be Josue Tamarez Torres, DISD’s teacher of the year. Here’s Torres, in a video produced by the Commit Partnership, talking about how he does it.
UPDATE (5/17/18): A reader asked a very good question. Is Torres the only fifth-grade math teacher at Blanton? No, he’s not. My apologies for not also shining a light on the work of Jessie Helms, the other fifth-grade math teacher. She deserves credit, too, for her students’ progress.
You’ll recall that last month a historic house in the Cedars was moved to a new lot in the neighborhood, saved from the wrecking ball and set on a path toward a brighter, better preserved future. The two-story home was moved in four pieces, and is gradually being reassembled at the corner of Browder and Beaumont streets. It will be spruced up over the next year, good as old.
In the meantime, its new neighbors have been gathering on the street corner every now and then to watch as the blue house starts to take its old shape in a new place. Preservation brings people together. On Wednesday evening, workers craned most of the second story and plopped it on top. Here’s where we’re at as of Thursday morning:
The imam Omar Suleiman, who you may remember from Zac Crain’s July 2017 feature inD Magazine, was named one of “25 Muslims changing America” by CNN. In an interview with the news network, the president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and a scholar-in-residence at Irving’s Valley Ranch Islamic Center describes receiving a letter from State Rep. Klyde Biedermann that asked Suleiman, a New Orleans native, to take a “loyalty oath.”
After calling other imams in Texas, Suleiman, who was reminded of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, realized that Biedermann had sent similar letters to nearly every mosque in the state. Joining with other religious leaders, Suleiman held a press conference to challenge the state representative.
“I wanted to send a message to Rep. Biedermann, as well as other Islamophobes and other lawmakers that think they can bully the Muslim community, that we are not afraid of you,” Suleiman says. “Not only do we feel as American as you, but we will not allow you to impose your narrow definition of American-ness on us, just as we will not allow extremist groups to impose their narrow definition of Islam on us.”
This is bad news for the Star-Telegram and for the city of Fort Worth. The paper has just been decimated, and much of the editorial control has been ceded to McClatchy editors who don’t live in Fort Worth — some of whom think that Fort Worth is part of the Midwest. I am hearing that of the eight newsroom editors, three were laid off yesterday. Here is the bonkers doublespeak memo issued late yesterday from Mike Fannin, editor of McClatchy’s Midwest region, and Steve Coffman, editor of the Star-T:
Over the last month, the top editors in Kansas City, Fort Worth, Belleville [Ed: where is Belleville?], and Wichita have been meeting to figure out how to work together better in McClatchy’s Midwest Region. [Ed: hang on. Are these folks trying to work together better, or are they trying to save money? And, as stated before, Fort Worth ain’t in the Midwest, people!]
More than 200 journalists in the region are working very hard every day, committed to doing journalism that is essential to our communities. Individually, there are many success stories. [Ed: collectively, there are none.] And collectively, there is so much potential. [Ed: oh, sorry.]
As a region, we have powerful resources to call upon to meet the challenges we face. [Ed: so powerful that those resources must be dialed back a skosh.] It’s also clear that we can do more to realize the future faster. [Ed: shuttering all the papers or just the Star-T?]
Today, we are announcing the formation of several regional teams in the Midwest [Ed: Fort Worth: “Where the Midwest now begins in the minds of corporate overlords tasked with slashing costs.”] that will work across markets:
Audience growth. This team will focus on growing our reach and finding innovative ways to help build deep engagement and loyalty around our journalism. The team will work to improve social engagement, headline and search optimization, homepage management, alerts, newsletters, and analytics. [Ed: what about “stickiness” and “blue ocean” opportunities?] They will be scheduled to work across all four Midwest newsrooms seven days a week, giving us greater coverage and flexibility. This team will be led by Eric Nelson, Kansas City’s audience editor and a veteran of newsrooms like Politico, the Dallas Morning News, and the Wichita Eagle. [Ed: quick, Eric, what was the last thing Bud Kennedy wrote?]
High impact journalism. No work is more essential to our mission than investigative and accountability reporting. To ensure that we consistently and effectively produce this important journalism across the region, we have asked Belleville’s Gary Dotson to ensure that investigative reporters and editors in all four newsrooms are communicating and looking for opportunities to collaborate. [Ed: that is a lot of ensuring. I feel ensured.] Gary has been editing award-winning projects for the News-Democrat for 25 years, including stories that won a McClatchy’s President’s Award each of the last three years as well as the Polk Award, IRE awards, the RFK, and others. [Ed: Gary is basically the Steph Curry of Belleville.]
Real-time news. We are separating the work of aggregation and breaking local news. A regional real-time news team will work closely with the national real-time team to tell the most interesting stories happening right now in the Midwest and to serve a wider range of readers more consistently. [Ed: got it. Clickbait.] This team will include many current real-time reporters working in their home newsrooms and will be led by Adam Darby, the regional real-time editor based in Kansas City. Breaking local news will continue to be covered in each newsroom by reporters supervised by local editors.
Video production. With our visual journalists focused on generating original local content, it has become clear that we need a team aimed solely on aggregating interesting videos in our communities, producing social and informational videos and helping to ensure that we are capitalizing on spikes that come with breaking news. [Ed: from The Atlantic: “So many media companies in 2017 have reoriented their budgets around the production of videos that the so-called ‘pivot to video’ has become an industry joke. Today, the pivot seems less like a business strategy and more like end-of-life estate planning.”] In the Midwest, this small team of producers will be led by regional video lead Todd Feeback, who has worked with all the markets in the region for some time now and helped all of us.
What’s ahead? [Ed: a fucking disaster! Oh, sorry. That wasn’t fair. Go ahead.] Local reporters, columnists, and visual journalists working with local editors is one of the most critical relationships in our company, and those will continue to operate at the market level. We are, however, examining other areas of opportunity for regional cooperation. [Ed: dude. “Regional cooperation” is the most b.s. euphemism ever for “more layoffs.”]
These changes will mean new or revised roles for staff members in every Midwest newsroom. [Ed: “Revised,” as in “working in PR.” And there’s nothing wrong with that!] Some will be joining new regional teams and will work closely with editors and staffers in other locations. We will be hiring a few new team members to fill critical roles. The changes also mean that we are parting ways with some terrific employees, and that is incredibly difficult for all of us. Everyone affected has been notified. [Ed: have the readers been notified?]
We know many of you might have questions. Steve and Sean will host two meetings — at 4 p.m. today and 10 a.m. tomorrow — in the newsroom conference room.
Progress is hardly ever easy, but every day we see a lot of compelling evidence of the impact we are having on the communities we serve. We have a responsibility to readers and to the business that we all love to keep it moving forward.
Thanks and let’s keep fighting for what matters.
Mike and Steve
Snarky comments aside, in situations like these, a little candor goes a long way. I see no candor in this memo. These moves are not “progress.”
Here’s the truth: McClatchy announced its first quarter results on April 27. The company reported a net loss in that period of $38.9 million, compared to $95.6 million in the first quarter of 2017. Not all the news is bad. But it’s hard to see how McClatchy’s ownership of the Star-T has been or will be good for the city of Fort Worth.
The Bass brothers have famously poured much of their fortune into that town, making it in some ways the envy of those of us who live to the east. Why not buy the Star-Telegram? Better yet: why not hire away the seven people remaining at the paper and start a nonprofit news organization? I don’t know. Something. Anything is better than what McClatchy is doing.
I’ve emailed and called Steve Coffman, the Star-T editor. I will update this post if I hear from him.
Before we went in, my friend and I made a wager. The bet was about how many times Tomi Lahren would reference Kanye West’s newly proclaimed affinity for President Donald Trump. My friend, knowing Lahren’s hip-hop proclivities, figured she would mention it at least three times. But we had no idea what kind of event we were going to.
I had signed up for the event, billed as a sort of seminar “about helping you learn how to start achieving the freedom you want and deserve,” a few days before, and received approximately a thousand text messages and emails from organizers. Some of the texts included gifs, including one of Lahren wearing a baseball cap in a car with a caption that read, “Heading back to Texas got me feeling like Texyassss.”
Thursday night at about 6 p.m., we walked into the Sheraton in downtown Dallas and were greeted by two signs. One said, “NFL FANS” (presumably related to the NFL draft). The other said, “TOMI LAHREN LIVE FREE & WEALTHY.” We followed a few well-dressed Dallas Republicans to a ballroom downstairs. At the escalator, I watched two men stop to pose for a photo with a banner that prominently featured Lahren’s face.
Everyone had to fill out and sign a form saying that we understood this was not a political event, that we wouldn’t disrupt it with our political opinions, that we understood this was not a “get rich quick” program, and that we wouldn’t record or videotape it—though I saw several people doing those last two.
We were seated in front of three giant screens playing a series of inspirational videos, mostly of people running up bleachers, sinking three-pointers, and hitting 300-yard drives in slow-motion. These were interspersed with motivational quotes from the likes of Jim Carrey, Jack Black, and Tony Robbins.
If you’re somehow reading this on the internet and still don’t know who Tomi Lahren is, congratulations. She’s the 25-year-old platinum blonde conservative firebrand whose video commentaries—on topics like kneeling NFL players and Black Lives Matter—have racked up hundreds of millions of views on social media. Until last year, she worked at Glenn Beck’s Irving-based TV network, The Blaze. The people who came out to see her last night were a mix of North Texas conservatives: some in suits with colorful socks and designer shoes, some in hiking boots and hoodies, some wearing T-shirts and hats declaring their political affiliations, and quite a few young bottle-blonde Tomi lookalikes.
When the event began, a quick video of Lahren blasted across the big screens. She congratulated the audience on being “great Americans” and mentioned we’d be seeing some experts who “think right,” though she mentioned no names. She did manage to tell us that we’d be hearing information that “the mainstream media won’t tell you.”
It was 6:30, and that’s when it began to occur to most of the audience, including the middle-aged woman directly behind me, that we would not be seeing Lahren in person for quite some time.
“I think she’s the name to get us in here,” the woman said to her husband.
Next, there was a series of speakers offering what they referred to as “financial education.” There were stories of dead relatives and hardship and a few elementary lessons on the basic concepts of stocks and options. Each speaker teased Lahren’s forthcoming appearance. At one point, a man named Eric Frady took off his blue suit jacket and asked the crowd why they thought America, the richest country in the world, had so many poor people. One man in the back, apparently misunderstanding the question, yelled out, “the Constitution!” Another time, Frady mentioned that McDonalds used to be a place where teenagers work. Referring to the fact that so many elderly people have taken jobs there to make ends meet, he asked who works there now. A man a few rows behind me yelled out, “Illegal aliens!”
At the end of his speech, Frady invited the audience to come to the front of the room to sign up (and pay) for a company called Interactive Trader’s $997 three-day investment workshop. (That price, we were told, covers two people, and parents can bring one adult child for free.) There were several hundred people in the room, and after a few minutes, about 50 or so of them had walked to the front.
All of that took more than two hours.
After a short break, Lahren finally came on stage to a standing ovation. She was dressed in all black, and as she talked at the podium, she had two large security guards sitting in front of her. She told the audience she lives in Los Angeles now, but that it’s good to be back in Texas. She asked any members or family members of the military and police to stand up, and thanked them. She said she promised the organizer of the event, listed on the program as Wealth Retreat Events, that she wouldn’t get political.
Then she told the audience that she wanted everyone to leave remembering three things. First: “You live in the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.” She said she had a hard time prioritizing the second and third things, saying they could have gone in any order. But she decided the second thing we needed to remember is that “Donald Trump is president.” And the third thing: “Hillary Clinton is not.” That got another standing ovation.
Lahren said she had settled her lawsuit with The Blaze nearly a year ago to the day—Lahren left Glenn Beck’s North Texas media empire in a cloud of acrimony and legal threats after she told the hosts of ABC’s The View she supported abortion rights. Now a Fox News contributor who can fill a ballroom with her conservative fans, Lahren said she’s never been happier than she is now. She gave a few general be-a-better-you bits of self-help advice, like “If you sell yourself out, you’re not going to sleep well at the end of the day,” and “Being a victim isn’t a cute look.”
Despite the promise not to be political, she threw a few scraps to her fan base, calling California, where she lives now, “the land of fruits and nuts and illegal immigrants.” She also said she would like to see David Hogg, one of the student leaders from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, dropped off in Venezuela unarmed. She quipped: “’Never again’ is going to have a whole new meaning.”
Lahren told a story about a time a year and a half ago when she was at Citizen, a cocktail lounge in Dallas. Jay-Z had just dropped her name in a rap song, and, as she puts it, “I thought I was pretty cool.” She tried to skip the line, telling the bouncers, “Do you know who I am? I’m in a Jay-Z song.” The bouncers promptly moved her to the back of the line. She said her friends still tease her about it to this day.
There were times when Lahren showed what seemed to be genuine warmth. She encouraged everyone, including liberals, to be who they are inside and fight for what they believe in. She specified that no political party is better than the other. She mentioned that one of her best friends, sitting in the front row, voted for Hillary Clinton. Lahren joked that people thinks she hates Democrats, but she worked retail in college, and the people she actually hates are the ones who come into the store five minutes before closing to rummage through clothing.
After 20 minutes at the podium, she took audience questions, reading off slips of paper that had been submitted during the break. She answered a question about the current state of the media by clarifying that she is not a news anchor—she does commentary. Someone asked her where she gets her hair done in Texas, and she said she has an appointment tomorrow and that she’ll never tell. When asked how she manages her time, she said she’d be a liar if she said she didn’t check social media every four to six hours, even in the middle of the night. “It’s a habit I need to break,” Lahren lamented. Her last question was whether she thought the Democrats will take over in November, which she answered with an emphatic, cheer-inducing “no.”
As Alex wrote earlier, any substantive decision about the future of Dallas’ Confederate monuments will have to wait for another day–likely allowing for a few more parades of historical and racial ignorance like the one the council was subjected to this morning during the open mic session of their meeting.
Not that the council didn’t take any action on Dallas’ links to its Confederate history today. Council members approved section 2 of the agenda item, which provided, “that streets with names linked to the Confederacy shall not be renamed.”
That’s it. So simple. If I’m reading that language correctly, it simply means that from here on out, if there is a street with a Confederate’s name on it, it can’t be changed. Which seems odd, and quite a reversal from last October, when the mayor’s Confederate Monument Task Force recommended the city change the names of a whole bunch of streets that honored less-than-honorable figures of the city’s Confederate past.
The new policy may not hold any weight, as council member Philip Kingston was quick to point out.
“Not only is this a bad idea, it is legally meaningless,” Kingston said. “We can’t bind future councils.”
Nonetheless, the provision passed. And a new citizens group called the Commemoration Committee to Honor Roy Williams and Marvin E. Crenshaw filed a suit yesterday in Federal Court in anticipation of today’s vote, alleging that the ban on renaming streets amounts to a restriction of freedom of speech.
“If passed the resolution acts as content-based unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech,” the committee, which formed in February, said in a release. “The resolution, which is widely expected to pass, chills the Plaintiff’s political speech by disallowing any meaningful participation in the established process to rename a street. The omission of such rights is tantamount to official oppression.”
The committee says it wants to rename Marilla St. for Marvin E. Crenshaw. And if you, like me, didn’t realize that Marilla was yet another Dallas street with Confederate ties, the lawsuit fills in the historical details. Marilla St., it says, was named for the mother of Confederate Chaplain William Ceiton Young, whom it describes as a “prominent 19th and 20th century ministor and neo-Confederate in Dallas.”
Young was a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, the pro-slavery branch of the Methodist church (some northern Methodists were involved in the abolitionist movement before the Civil War). During the Civil War, Young served as the Missionary Chaplain to General W. L. Cabell, who had his own Dallas elementary school named after him. Cabell, not exactly an honorable solider, led a massacre at the infamous Battle of Poison Springs in 1864:
It was so notorious that African American Union regiments had a battle cry, “Remember Poison Springs.” After the battle, the 29th Texas Calvary execution squads, led by Cabell, roamed the battlefield murdering wounded African American solders chanting “Where is the First Kansas N***** now? All cut up to pieces and gone to hell.” Some were scalped. The captured Union wagons were used in a contest to crush “n***** heads” under the wheels.
One wonders where the minster was when all this butchering was going on.
After the war, Young became very active in Dallas civic affairs. The Kentucky-born minister served as District Clerk, street commissioner, and alderman. Young built the first home in The Cedars, and he was also active in a group that helped to erect the Confederate War Memorial.
Young’s story is a reminder that much of this city’s early history was built by former Confederates. It comes as no surprise, then, that that history was also defined by gross segregation, inequality, disenfranchisement, racist policies, and racial bullying and lynching. The question remains, to what extent should we honor the ways in which these men sought to honor the ideology that underpinned the racist elements of their worldview? Should we destroy their monuments? Move them? Board them up with explanatory plaques?
The council hasn’t made up its mind. But today the council did decide that one way to honor them is to prohibit the renaming of any of their streets. If that is any indication of where this whole debate is now heading, then council member Kevin Felder’s ominous comments at today’s meeting should raise some concern:
“Be careful about all these delays,” Felder said. “There is a shadow plan in the works.”
SMU’s student newspaper will soon become a part of the school’s journalism department—and, some alumni fear, more susceptible to university censorship—unless a campaign to preserve The Daily Campus’ independence is successful.
In January, the university’s student media board voted to shutter the Student Media Company, citing the flagging print readership and declining ad revenue that’s doomed other newspapers across the country. The company, which runs The Daily Campus, a fashion magazine, and the yearbook, also suffered financially from a 2003 decision that made student fees supporting the company optional. As of now, the paper will end its print edition as part of the move under the wing of the journalism department.
A group of alumni, calling itself the Friends of Student Media, is trying to raise $125,000 to fund the paper independently. Jessica Huseman, a spokeswoman for the group and former editor of The Daily Campus, says concerns that the university has a loose definition of freedom of the press are well-founded.
“(The university) has a history of attempting to stifle student voices on that campus,” she says. “If the school is allowed to have financial control over the paper I think that we’ll see that happen more and more often.”
Huseman, now a reporter for ProPublica, says that in the summer of 2011, she worked on an edition of the paper sent to incoming freshmen. The university had oversight of the summer edition, effectively turning it into a “PR tool for the campus.” Administrators rejected Huseman’s editorial, a call for more transparency from the university’s board of trustees. Her replacement editorial, about a lack of financial aid offered to transfer students, was also rejected, she says. A publication on the “100 Things You Should Know About SMU” was shortened to 99 things before it was put in the hands of incoming freshmen.
She also cites a 2013 update to the student handbook, which removed all references to “freedom of speech and the freedom of uncensored student press.”
David Sedman, a member of the student media board, says the school’s journalism department will likely set up an independent board to be a voice for the paper, and to address any potential issues of censorship. The current journalism staff at the university would stand up for the freedom of The Daily Campus, Sedman says. That does depend on the current journalism staff, however.
“There is a legitimate concern that you don’t know who will be there in x number of years from now,” he says, part of the reason an independent board would be crucial.
While acknowledging that much of the work in The Daily Campus is guided by journalism professors working with the journalism students who write for it, Huseman is more skeptical about current faculty support for the paper’s independence. “The journalism professors I’ve spoken with have this really bizarre idea that if the paper is independent, the journalism school can’t help it at all,” she says. And any censorship wouldn’t come from the professors.
Huseman does question why journalism professors haven’t been more outspoken about the paper being absorbed by the university. She thinks it’s connected to what she says has been the paper’s declining quality in recent years.
“I think the journalism school has been openly hostile to The Daily Campus for decades now, and that has infiltrated the student body,” she says. “Journalism students don’t care.”
At one point, the journalism department started an online-only student-run publication, The Daily Mustang, to compete with the student paper, Huseman says. “Nobody censored The Daily Mustang because they weren’t covering any hard-hitting news,” she says, and the online publication merged with The Daily Campus in 2011.
Jake Batsell, an associate professor of journalism at SMU and former faculty adviser to The Daily Mustang, disputes the notion that the Mustang avoided hard news or watchdog journalism. He points to stories that were not favorable to the university, such as news on fraternity suspensions, and to recognition of The Daily Mustang from the Society of Professional Journalists, which awarded students writing for the publication for work that was far from fluff.
A 2012 “First Amendment Award” from SPJ’s Fort Worth chapter, for a series on campus crime and SMU’s compliance with the Clery Act, was shared between The Daily Mustang and The Daily Campus, hardly a sign of an “openly hostile” relationship, Batsell says. There was something of a competition when SMU was a two-newspaper campus, but SMU faculty members are concerned with making sure every student is prepared to be a professional journalist.
“The idea that we don’t care about teaching the students about watchdog journalism and journalistic independence is not accurate,” Batsell says. “All of us have worked in journalism in one form or another over the years.”
There was never any pressure from the university to “steer or spike” coverage while he was advising student publications, Batsell says. Whatever happens with The Daily Campus, student journalists will still be making the calls.
“There’s a real ingrained sense of belief that I have that those students should be making those editorial decisions,” he says.
In an opinion column in The Daily Campus, Tony Pederson, the chair of SMU’s journalism department, waxes poetic about the free press and speech at SMU, and makes a carefully worded assurance:
Economic realities have, sadly, affected virtually every news media organization in the U.S. Student media operations at many universities have been forced to change. Every member of our journalism faculty has at one point worked in professional news media. We are disheartened by the changes but committed to preserving freedom of the press in every facet of the classroom and newsroom.
Huseman says that, with the online GoFund Me and individual donations pledged to a foundation supporting the alumni effort, her group has raised about $40,000. With the last print edition of The Daily Campus due out in May, time is short.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comment from Jake Batsell, associate professor of journalism at SMU.
Reading coverage of the Dallas Art Fair this week, I was pleased to see that the old saying remains true. “New York writers writing about Dallas absolutely cannot stop themselves from using the single most trite cliché about Texas.” So they say the saying goes.
Here’s the opening—the lead, or lede, in the biz—of the Dallas Art Fair report from Artsy.net:
Is everything bigger in Texas?
And here’s the lead from Forbes, in a piece about art riffing on the American flag at the Dallas Art Fair:
They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and that also includes pride for the United States of America.
Fair enough. How else are out-of-state readers going to understand that they are reading about something in the state of Texas, where things are big?
As Alex noted earlier, the Dallas Morning News no longer employs Jacquielynn Floyd and James Ragland, and since Steve Blow is now confining his thoughts to the family holiday newsletter, the paper doesn’t really have a true metro columnist. It’s sort of semantics, since Robert Wilonsky does the same job but I assume got to pick his job title and “city columnist” has more press-card-tucked-in-hatband-of-fedora panache than “metro columnist,’ I suppose. Or does it? (I will also remind you that when Robert’s first column appeared, it was billed as something like “one in an occasional series” and lolololol.)
There is an opening, since Robert can’t or at least shouldn’t try to fill all the remaining space left behind, all those column inches that used to be filled by Jackie finding a local-ish angle of a national story and James never taking a side on anything. Who should the DMN hire?
(I should also say right now that this is not going to be dog names.)
I’m kidding. It’s dog names, because as far as I know Mike Wilson still has a dog named Story or, if that beautiful dog has gone to God’s Kennel, he did at one point name a dog Story, and that is only because Reported Essay was a little much. I can’t let that happen again. I won’t. Oh also the Morning News should hire a columnist who is 1) not white, 2) not old, and 3) likes to write, not to be on TV or radio.
Dirk Says He’ll Return for a 21st Season. Wearing a walking boot on his left foot at what was supposed to be his exit interview last night, Dirk said he’s planning to come back for another season. At least now he has a chance to go out on a good note next year.
$1.2 Million in Legal Aid Going to Frazier Courts Residents. A Dallas developer and three lawyers have pledged $1.2 million in order to get families in the Frazier Courts area, south of Fair Park, free legal services. Those services will include rental agreements, immigration, and veterans claims and will be done through the Community Lawyering Center, run by Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and UNT Dallas College of Law.
Former Parkland Employee Pleads Guilty to Leaking Patient Info. Former Parkland certified medical assistant Krystal Ann Hodge stole 100 patients’ personal information, which was then used in a tax refund scam. The patients were inmates at Dallas County jails. Hodge faces up to 10 years in prison.
Landmark Garage in Downtown Purchased. The 5-story parking garage and retail building at 711 Elm St. was built in 1925 to serve the Sanger Brothers Department Store. It was sold to a local investment group.
Community Protests Dallas Father’s Deportation. Mario Amaya is trying to fight his deportation to El Salvador and says if he’s deported, he fears for his life because he refused to join gangs there. The group Faith in Texas protested outside the ICE office yesterday to keep Amaya here. His reps at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services said they hope his deportation, scheduled for today, will be stopped and that he will be granted asylum.
Sinclair Could Own Dallas Station.Sinclair Broadcast Group is in the process of purchasing the company that owns the news station KDAF-TV on Channel 33 in Dallas. If you haven’t watched the Deadspin edit of local anchors around the country reciting the exact same anti-fake news spiel, which Sinclair mandated, you should.
DeSoto ISD Superintendent Resigns. David Harris had been on leave for more than a month but has now resigned. Trustees had hired an attorney to investigate concerns about his performance.
Hit-and-Run Driver Fled with Victim on Her Hood. Police are searching for a driver who, after a crash in southern Dallas, hit the other driver who’d gotten out of her car to exchange information and drove for a mile with the victim on the hood of the car.
More Evacuations Due to Gas Leak Concerns. Atmos evacuated more homes and apartments in northwest Dallas yesterday after a natural gas smell was reported. Hundreds of homes in the area are still without natural gas. It would be great if Atmos could get this situation under control.
City Council Nixes New Concrete Plants in Joppa. Council members voted 9-5 to deny companies permission to put new concrete plants in Joppa. “Your health is worth more than any economic development that any corporation can offer. Put your health first. I am not going to leave you without any economic development. But I believe you have a right to breathe clean air,” said council member Kevin Felder, who represents Joppa.
Tonya Couch Arrested for Bond Violation. The “Affluenza” mom, who’d been arrested in Mexico with her son in 2015, has been arrested yet again. This time, officials said she violated her bond conditions after she failed a urinalysis test, as she isn’t allowed to drink alcohol. She’s still facing charges of hindering the apprehension of a fugitive and money laundering.
72-Year-Old Security Guard Killed at Lake Highlands Hotel. This story makes me sick. The security guard at a Holiday Inn, Adane Weldekiros, told 34-year-old Randal Terrell to leave after he was hanging around the parking lot around 1 a.m. Terrell left, but came back with a gun and shot the 72-year-old, who begged for his life, according to a witness. Terrell was arrested and charged with murder.
If you were awakened by your aging, deaf, howling cat around 3 a.m. on Saturday morning, as I was, then you, too, didn’t miss a minute of the royal wedding between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. (I mean, that choir? QE2’s lime green skirt suit? Princess Anne’s Adidas sunglasses? Serena Williams’ floor-length braids?) The spectacle was all too brief.
Now, after young Prince George’s domination of the lemon and elderflower cake and Serena’s domination of (I can only imagine) Idris Elba at beer pong are complete, we are left with only vague regrets and honeymoon speculation. Will it be a private safari lodge retreat in Botswana, Zambia, or Namibia with a chef, butlers, and private guide? Or an Italian villa double date with George and Amal? Or a Westworld meets A Passage to India trek across the subcontinent? Hard to say when the world is your former Commonwealth.
For us Texans, however, all is not lost. We’ve tracked down 10 adventurous destinations within driving distance of Dallas worthy of a royal retreat. There’s a new safari-style glamping destination in Wimberley, and a big cat rescue where you can sleep feet away from lions, tigers, and lemurs. There’s Cibolo Creek Ranch, where you can stay in a 19th-century fort and maneuver a Humvee through the basin of an ancient volcanic crater, or Doves Rest Cabins, where you can enjoy a glass of wine while watching the sun set over Palo Duro Canyon.
If you’re a yoga-freak like the Duchess, you can work your reverse warrior pose at Living Waters on Lake Travis. If you prefer showing off your shooting skills like Prince Harry, you can shoot sporting clays at Rough Creek Lodge & Resort.
But if you really want to feel like a mobbed royal, simply brave the line at the Magnolia Bakery in Waco.
When Sam Wilson acquired the leasehold rights to the old lounge at the corner of Knox and Travis streets on the outskirts of Highland Park in 1967, he took on the project as a lark. He knew nothing about the bar business, but he and his wife, Vi, loved food and drink and entertaining people. They decided to give it a whirl, and what a madcap adventure it turned out to be.
Wilson died at age 83 on April 18. A few weeks prior, he reflected on the decade in the early seventies that he owned the Knox Street Pub (not to be confused with another bar operating under the same name today in a different location). This was the period it became a magnet for artists, writers, actors, musicians, politicians, hippies, college students, and everyday philosophers—folks for which the city of Dallas offered few respites.
In those days, Dallas looked little like it does today in either physical appearance or social structure. Liberal thought tended to be drowned out by conservative ideology, and white culture overshadowed those of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Far fewer people lived here, and it grew mostly by transplants arriving from smaller areas of Texas and surrounding states. Most natives thought of Dallas as a big hometown, not a sprawling urban center.
Few settings in Dallas provided a comfortable atmosphere for the expression of new ideas and opposing views. Those few people who came from the Northeast and other regions found a home at the Pub. Wilson’s open-minded philosophy set the stage for his bar to become a rare venue for local residents who embraced progressive political and philosophical thought. There seemed to be a place for everyone at the Pub.
Reporters approached Wilson over the years about sharing his thoughts on the iconic bar, but he demurred for decades. “I just didn’t want to look back,” Wilson said, weeks before his passing. “I enjoyed having been there and doing it, but I don’t talk about it much.” He finally agreed in his last years to sit down and talk about how it all started as a favor to a friend.
It started when the Highland Park couple saw a for-sale sign on an old bar housed in an 1900s-era red brick building at Knox and McKinney streets. For $2,500, they bought the business from Kenneth Porter, the second husband of Marina Oswald whose first husband, Lee Harvey Oswald, assassinated President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Sam redecorated the old bar and christened it the Knox Street Pub.
When the Pub opened, the neighborhood was full of humble World War II-era bungalows that housed working class people. The businesses on Know Street catered to their needs and those of neighboring Highland Park. They included a movie theater (that later showed X-rated movies before being torn down), café, tailor, dry cleaner, drug store, hardware store, and the like.
Wilson opened the Pub from 10 a.m. to midnight daily, serving stew, chili, sandwiches, coffee, iced tea, beer, and wine. Mrs. Mack, an elderly woman who lived in one of the small houses near the Pub, was the first customer to walk in the door. She became a regular, just like many other residents of the neighborhood: employees of the working-class merchants on Knox Street, students from Southern Methodist University.
Mrs. Mack became one of Wilson’s favorite customers, and her friends tagged along with her. She loved to share her opinions about the other customers, and she would give them names. She called a Dallas Times Herald reporter “Newspaper Man.” A female customer she didn’t like much was labeled “Hammer Woman,” although no one ever quite knew why.
Down the street, another now-closed bar called the Quiet Man attracted a large crowd, and the partiers began flowing back and forth between the two. Before long, the Pub became the destination in Dallas for young people. Getting in the front door sometimes was a challenge. Patrons stood at the bar, they sat at the tables and booths, they gathered in a pool room in the back as the jukebox blared Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35″ (“everybody must get stoned.”) Sometimes, revelers jumped up on top of an old stand-up piano in the middle of the bar and danced.
Wilson, who previously worked for an insurance company, suddenly realized a cultural and commercial success. “At first, I was overwhelmed with the way it happened,” Wilson said. “It just happened overnight. At first it was local people. When the hippies started coming, they were people from all over the United States. Most of them were from California.” Some visiting patrons said they heard about the Pub while backpacking in Europe.
The Pub also became a haunt of LGBT people at a time when most of them remained in the closet or only frequented small dark bars that catered exclusively to them. As a manager at Sanger Harris, Vi Wilson knew several gay people, and they flocked to the Pub with friends. “We knew gay people, and we didn’t have a prejudice,” she said. “To our knowledge, we didn’t have friends who had a prejudice. It wasn’t an issue. They were either nice people, or they weren’t.”
The Pub also broke with tradition as regards to the racial makeup of the customers. Most bars and restaurants north of the Trinity River tended to be all white, except for the employees. At the Pub a black woman named Laurice became a regular, appearing almost nightly. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price also visited the Pub in his younger days.
Everyone got along well at the Pub. The Wilsons’ two young daughters, Kelli and Allison, went with their mother to eat occasionally, and other patrons took their children—which included the parents of D Magazine Editor Tim Rogers—with them to play pool in the back room. “We were protective parents,” Vi Wilson said. “I don’t ever remember them being exposed to a foul word or anything else they shouldn’t have. There was never ever a problem.”
Vi Wilson noted that patrons engaged in as much talking as they did drinking, and no subjects seemed off limits. “It was a place where no matter what your philosophy you could chit chat about it, and they didn’t quarrel about it,” she said.
At one point in the early 1970s, bikers began showing up at the Pub, but they never created any real trouble. One night, a biker drove his motorcycle in the front door. “Sam stood with his back hands in his pockets, and he didn’t raise his voice,” Vi Wilson said. “He just said you can’t do that.” The biker left. The bikers returned, but they behaved.
In the early 1970s the crowd at the Pub ebbed, an event that Wilson attributed to all of the hippies heading to Colorado. “It changed as suddenly as it began,” Wilson said. He decided to close down the Pub for a year to redecorate and reinvent it. When it reopened, Wilson transformed it into a fashionable spot with fine art, mirrors, and hanging plants. He started serving mixed drinks. It again became a destination, attracting mostly young professionals. “It became an entirely different place and business,” Wilson said.
Over the years the Pub so impressed entrepreneurs that they borrowed concepts from Wilson for their own endeavors. Black Eyed Pea founders Gene Street and Phil Cobb met at the Pub to lay out their plans for launching a restaurant empire. Former World Championship Tennis President and British star player Michael Davies decided while visiting the Pub to open a singles bar called Lillie Langtry’s on Upper Greenville Avenue with his business partners.
Other notable patrons of the Pub over the years included former Texas State Sen. Joe Russell and artist Frank Tolbert Jr. Former Gov. Ann Richards had drinks there when she lived in the Dallas area. Meat on the Hoof author Gary Shaw frequented it. Countless young people who would later become big shots in Dallas walked through the door of the Pub.
Wilson said he tired of running the Pub in 1976 after it became “just work,” and he decided to pursue his passions for art, antiques, and literature. The Wilsons sold the Pub to one of Vi’s former business associates, Joe Adams, who successfully ran it until developers bought the building and refused to renew his lease. Adams, who became popular in his own right, threw one last party in 1993 to mark its closing, and at the end of the night he announced the final last call. Another bar later opened under the name of Knox Street Pub in a different location, but it shared nothing but the name of the venerable establishment Wilson created.
The Wilsons went on to buy and renovate an old hotel in Mineola, which they turned into a boutique restaurant known as the Wilson House. It operated only on weekends. Sam wound up working a few years for the Dallas Public Library during the 1990s. Later, they opened an antiques store in Preston Center and eventually an import company operating out of the Dallas World Trade Center. Wilson spent his last years painting and collecting books, many of them first editions.
After he turned over the keys to the Pub to Adams, Wilson rarely, if ever, returned to visit it. He left the Pub behind to pursue other interests, but a part of him remained there in the memories of the patrons. Outgoing, friendly, kind, sophisticated, and probably brilliant, Wilson made the perfect host for a bar patron seeking more than a buzz.
And until the last days it was open, people would often ask if anyone had seen or heard anything about Sam.
$1.8 Billion LBJ East Improvements Back on the Table. The Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation, will send 10.8 miles of I-635 out for bids on May 24. The project would entail full reconstruction and adding one general lane each way, as well as other improvements. Construction could start by late 2019 and would likely be completed in 2024.
Former Richardson Mayor Indicted on Federal Conspiracy Charges. Former mayor Laura Jordan, along with a land developer she married, have been indicted on seven counts, including conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. She had apparently voted for zoning changes that would allow her now-husband to build a development that most citizens opposed. In exchange, the developer paid her multiple sums. The FBI is investigating. They could each get up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Hoax Caller Sends Police to Home of Arlington Family. A call about a fake shooting to 911 led to 15 cop cars going to the house of a family in Arlington. When the officers ordered everyone outside, they realized no one had been shot and that the call was fake. The family said that earlier they had gotten a call from someone impersonating an IRS employee, who threatened to send the police if they didn’t give the caller money. Investigators are searching for the caller.
In July 1997, Andrew Wayne Roark, then living in DeSoto, called 911 after his one-year-old daughter appeared to have trouble waking up. According to Roark, she had fallen from her bed. The girl was taken to Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. That same night, the police arrested Roark for intentionally injuring his daughter.
The allegations against Roark relied primarily on the science of “shaken baby syndrome,” a constellation of medical symptoms that were at one point popularly thought to be caused by violently shaking a baby, often to death. During the 1980s and 1990s, SBS became a favorite of prosecutors around the country, resulting in more than 3,000 known convictions.
By 2011, however, medical experts, including the one who coined the term “shaken baby syndrome,” agreed that the physical markers could not be read as indicators of abuse. In fact, over the past decade, many so-called “shaken baby cases” are now recognized as wrongful convictions based on faulty evidence.
Roark’s case seemed ripe for Dallas County’s Conviction Integrity Unit, an independent division of the District Attorney’s office that investigates claims of wrongful convictions. Unlike in other states, Dallas’ CIU cannot overturn a sentence on its own. It instead makes a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which makes the ultimate decision. Craig Watkins, the elected Dallas County District Attorney at the time, had agreed to recommended Roark’s case for reversal, but, under current DA Faith Johnson’s purview, that decision was delayed. Johnson decided to allow the appellate section to continue to challenge Roark’s fight for freedom; that was the end of the cooperation. (The Dallas County DA’s office said it could not comment on ongoing cases.)
Roark’s case represents the turmoil that the CIU has been under since its inception in 2007 by then-DA Watkins. While Dallas County boasts the first Conviction Integrity Unit in the country, the question remains: does the CIU serve its purpose or has it become a political football in a contested election? The division has taken on a new significance in the light of Johnson’s upcoming race against Democratic challenger John Creuzot. Both candidates appear poised to use the CIU’s success (or lack thereof) as a talking point to appeal to voters of all parties who don’t want to see the repeat horror of large numbers of wrongful convictions.
Both Creuzot and his primary opponent Elizabeth Frizell had promised to strengthen the CIU with more money and manpower. In an age where exonerations are the most visible form of criminal justice reform, the role of the unit is one of the few political positions that reds and blues can agree on. Wrongful convictions erode public trust in the system, making the job harder for everyone. But just how does an office whose main job is to put people away commit itself to freeing people? And how effective is Dallas County’s?
When the Dallas County CIU was formed, it was the first of its kind, a bold move by Texas’s first black district attorney. Between 2001 and 2007, DNA evidence proved 13 Texas prisoners were innocent of the crimes they were convicted for, the third most of any state. After winning the election, Watkins ordered the review of 400 more in Dallas County alone. In an interview, Watkins, who is now in private practice, said he worked to “develop credibility” as the first unit of a DA’s office whose purpose was to free people, not lock them up.
“I was told it was not the job of the DA to free criminals,” Watkins remembers.
The racial disparity of the criminal justice system generally didn’t escape Watkins, either. He took over a DA’s office that had once been led by Henry Wade, who famously said, “any prosecutor could convict a guilty man, but … it takes a real pro to convict an innocent man.” (And, indeed, he likely had at least one innocent man executed.) Watkins’ changes were an upheaval and an acknowledgement that, perhaps, the time had come for Dallas to reckon with its racist and punitive legacy. (“Race is a big deal,” Watkins says today.)
Watkins was praised across the country for introducing a novel form of defense. Embedded within the prosecutor’s office, the CIU operated independently and used DNA testing to free the wrongly convicted. He was featured in a 60 Minutes episode and in the New York Times. He appeared on the cover of D Magazine. Watkins forged a relationship with the Innocence Project of Texas to hunt for cases that were ripe for a second look, and the first head of the CIU, Mike Ware, a Fort Worth lawyer, is now the executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas. Under Watkins’ tenure, more than 30 people were exonerated.
Watkins’s CIU even began testing DNA where available in cases where the defendant hadn’t even claimed a wrongful conviction, resulting in at least one exoneration. Watkins’ commitment to freeing the wrongly convicted was evident from the first day he took office in January 2007. Watkins appeared at the hearing for Andrew Gossett, who was exonerated as a result of a DNA test. In a first for a prosecutor, Watkins apologized.
But after Watkins lost his reelection bid in 2015, losing to Republican Susan Hawk after a series of controversies involving misspent forfeiture funds, there were no exonerations. (The Exoneration Registry includes some exonerations that were finalized after Watkins left office.) Watkins says today that he has “three bankers’ boxes” of letters from incarcerated people who would like the Dallas CIU to look at their cases. He said he informed Hawk and Johnson, but no one ever came to pick the documents up. Johnson’s office acknowledged that “the CIU has received several letters from Mr. Watkins requesting review of some cases by the CIU. We have been responsive in those cases by acknowledging receipt. We have not concluded anything from those reviews yet.” Through a spokesperson the office denied knowledge of more material. (Representatives from Hawk’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)
Today, more than a decade after Watkins took office, CIUs are almost an institution in any large prosecutor’s office that calls itself progressive. There are at least 33 across the country, although about half of them have not freed a single person. In a report last month, the National Registry of Exonerations—the gold standard of exoneration data—credited CIUs and other “professional exonerators” (like Innocence Projects) for over half the 139 exonerations in 2017.
The Dallas County CIU now considers both DNA and non-DNA cases. The problem with Dallas County’s CIU has generally been the politics of the county itself. First, there was the negative press generated out of Watkins’ office for issues extraneous to the work itself. (A federal audit in 2015 called for the DA’s office to return $112,000 in forfeiture funds that were not correctly recorded. Most of this, according to The Dallas Morning News, went to paying bar dues, although Watkins also used money to to repair a county-owned car that he wrecked in addition to a monetary settlement that barred the other driver from speaking to the media.)
While the CIU was at its most effective then, it was difficult for the project – then brand new – to keep its momentum.
Then came Susan Hawk, who hired Patricia Cummings. Cummings now runs the CIU for the newly-elected reformer district attorney in Philadelphia. In the ensuing chaos of an office where Hawk was largely absent, the CIU was unable to accomplish much of anything. Without the strong arm of a district attorney committed to freeing the innocent, it was too easy for the appellate division of the DA office—the section that continues to prosecute crimes after conviction is achieved—to argue against giving some cases another look.
However, new reforms to Texas law now allow defendants to appeal their cases should new scientific evidence arise. The county also has a DA in Faith Johnson who has attested to her resolve to pursue exonerations. But, since she was only appointed last year, there hasn’t been enough time to see the results of her vision of the CIU.
Richard Miles, who was exonerated in 2009 for a shooting he did not commit, understands the importance of CIUs and is skeptical that prosecutors are willing to put their efforts behind their rhetoric. He was the first non-DNA exoneration by Watkins’ office. He says that the team of CIU lawyers led by Mike Ware worked “hand-in-hand” with the nonprofit Centurion Ministries (an organization that investigates claims of wrongful conviction) to reinvestigate his case and push through his exoneration. He argues that the “CIU hasn’t done anything since Watkins was relieved from office.”
“Dallas should not get a DA who doesn’t acknowledge exonerations … That’s what the DA is supposed to do; he or she should embody justice,” Miles says. “We are moreso chess pieces in [the candidates’] political strategy.”
Too, candidates are touting expanding the unit’s duties. In prior public comments, Democratic candidate John Creuzot has said that he believes the CIU should expand its focus to include training attorneys and police to prevent wrongful convictions. (Watkins said that the CIU was already doing this under his administration.) Not all see it that way. The Conviction Integrity Unit, Miles argues, should be primarily involved with exonerating the innocent. Other duties, he thinks, should not be added before the backlog of exonerations are cleared.
“It should be the same thing that Watkins wanted it to be. To add anything more to it is to place weight on a brand new baby.”
Miles also believes that there are two reasons why exonerations seemingly vanished from the DA’s office. First, there’s the issue of pride. DAs don’t like to admit error. And second, Texas has a relatively generous compensation package for exonerees, which now guarantees $80,000 for each year exonerated plus a monthly annuity. It is widely regarded as the most generous compensation package in the country.
As the CIU became an issue in the Democratic primary, with both Creuzot and Elizabeth Frizell suggesting that the unit has not been as effective as it could be, Johnson defended her work. She noted the appointment of an additional attorney to the CIU in August of 2017, a move that brought the total staff to three full-time attorneys, one assistant, and one investigator.
The CIU chief reports directly to Johnson, which her office says is different from her predecessor.
“The CIU at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office remains a leader in the field of Conviction Integrity,” Johnson said. “In fact, other DA Offices around the country continue to contact us looking for advice and ideas on how to model their CIUs using our mold and best practices.”
Johnson’s office also said that the CIU has reviewed the cases of 145 individuals since she took office in January 2017 under the direction of Cynthia Garza, who was formally appointed chief of the unit last July. Johnson’s office did not detail the results of the reviews, and it appears that a review could be anything from a full reinvestigation to a reading of the file.
One problem on which both Miles and Johnson’s office agree is that the process to exonerate a person takes longer than the original conviction. As a result, people wait years—often longer than their original sentence—for DNA to get tested or lost evidence to be located. Johnson’s office said in a statement that non-DNA cases “are very challenging cases requiring time-intensive investigations that are often slow-moving for a variety of reasons.”
Some of this delay is the result of the Texas process, which requires more than just a prosecutor’s say-so, although a DA’s blessing is an important step. There is at least one case, that of Timmy Duke, who was recommended for exoneration by Johnson’s office. Duke had pled guilty in 1992 to a robbery, but records showed that he was incarcerated at the time of the crime and, as a result, could not have committed it. His case is pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
But, there is some concern from groups and exonerees that the CIU doesn’t go far enough. There is a reason why CIUs are so powerful: they are run by district attorneys who have all of the information and can see where mistakes were made. Watkins added that the DA was “very powerful,” and asserted that DAs could make pretty much any decision they chose.
One high-profile case is Benjamin Spencer’s, whose conviction for an assault and robbery relied on shaky eye-witness testimony with no forensic evidence. Spencer has been in prison for more than three decades. Watkins admitted to The Atlantic that he refused Spencer’s case because there was no DNA.
“I’m not going to take a chance on that,” he told the reporter.
In 2008, a judge weighed the evidence and held that Spencer deserved a new trial on the grounds that he was likely innocent. He thought he would go home any day. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the judge’s recommendation, and Johnson’s office told The Atlantic last summer that, while the office stood behind the conviction, it would test DNA evidence were it to become available. (A spokesperson for Johnson’s office said it could not speak further about the case because it is pending, and that the comments Johnson made to The Atlantic were made last summer, with no knowledge of when the story would be published.)
Spencer’s case was particularly problematic. Many people believe he is innocent, including Miles, who knew him well in prison. (They are both clients of Centurion Ministries.) There is no forensic material to test, and most of the eyewitnesses have recanted or cannot remember. While some of this might change, Spencer currently seems more likely to serve out his entire sentence than he is to see a new trial.
Miles pointed out that there are other outstanding cases like Roark’s, where the CIU has promised to review the evidence, but has yet to make a move. Some appear to be moving forward, albeit slowly. One is Tyrone Day’s, who now works at Miles of Freedom. Day, whose case is one of the oldest in the CIU, was released on parole after 26 years of incarceration, but he has not yet been exonerated. He says his lawyers, Barry Scheck and Bryce Benjet of the Innocence Project, are in the process of hammering out details with the CIU attorneys, and, therefore, did not want to discuss the case. New DNA technology has allowed for alternative suspects to be identified and for Day to be ruled out.
As Miles points out, there is a question as to whether the measure of a CIU’s success should be the amount of cases it has reviewed or the people it has exonerated.
I asked Miles whether he or other exonerees had been asked to contribute to the CIU, and he said that while he’s met with the current DA, no formal plans have ever been made. The district attorney still holds the power in directing the strategy of the unit.
“Our stories have not been truly been valued,” he says. “We can train prosecutors. We have not been used as a resource.”
Dallas ISD STAAR Test Scores Improve. Both reading and math scores went up a higher percentage than the state’s growth. DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said as long as the state’s criteria stays the same, he foresees fewer than five schools getting a failing mark from the state later this year.
Irving Elementary Teacher Accused of “Unwanted” Contact with Students. The teacher at Lee Britain Elementary School has been removed from the school while the allegations are being investigated.
FBI Raids Dallas Healthcare Company. Yesterday, FBI agents raided Medoc Health Services in Northwest Dallas and filled a van with materials. The reason for the raid is unclear, but Medoc said they are cooperating with the investigation.
Cedar Hill Student Shoves Teacher, Curses at Him. A cellphone video captured the student losing his temper after his physics teacher, Bobby Soehnge, took away the kid’s phone during class. He knocked papers off Soehnge’s desk and shoved his face with his hand. Cedar Hill ISD is “following district policy on disciplinary action.”
Chief Hall Takes Oath of Office. Yesterday, after serving as Dallas Police Chief for eight months, she was sworn in as Dallas’ first female police chief. Hall paid tribute to Officer Rogelio Santander, who was killed last week in the line of duty.
Dallas Residents Aren’t Satisfied. A new survey says they are the least satisfied they’ve been in about 10 years, although ratings are still higher than most other large cities. “What we see over time is that largely, the city of Dallas has stayed consistent in that we’re better than other large cities in terms of satisfaction,” said Dallas Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich.
Plano Teen Arrested in Mass Shooting Plot. 17-year-old Matin Azizi-Yarand, a Plano West Senior High School student, has been arrested for an ISIS-inspired plot to commit a mass shooting at Stonebriar Centre mall in Frisco. He is being held on $3 million bail and could be sentenced to life if convicted.
Philanthropist Margaret McDermott Dies at 106. She had given millions over the years to Dallas science, education, and arts, including the Arboretum and the Dallas Opera. Her memorial service will be held at the Meyerson.
Dallas Man on Texas’ 10 Most Wanted List. Billy Don Urango, a sex offender who fled from his Dallas halfway house, has been added to the state’s most wanted. There’s a $5,000 reward that’s being offered for information that leads to his capture.
April Showers Bring May…Showers. Don’t forget to bring an umbrella today and tomorrow. Hail might even make an appearance.
Despite a last-ditch effort by alumni to preserve the SMU student newspaper’s independence, The Daily Campus will end its print edition and become a part of the university’s journalism department. Friends of Student Media, the alumni group that had raised concerns about the potential for university censorship, was able to raise about $40,000 in a week to try and keep the independent Student Media Company in business.
In a letter sent to SMU President Gerald Turner and journalism faculty at the school, the group says that it was told by members of the company’s board that it was “too late.” The money, and any future donations, will instead “be used to fund annual scholarships for Dallas-area students who plan to study journalism at colleges and universities with independent student presses,” according to the letter.
Dallas Police Grieve Death of Officer. Officer Rogelio Santander died yesterday morning after he was shot during the ordeal at the Lake Highlands Home Depot. He is the ninth North Texas officer to be killed in the line of duty in roughly two years. The other wounded officers. Crystal Almeida and Scott Painter, are still in critical condition but are making good recoveries, according to Chief Renee Hall. A capital murder charge was added to Armando Luis Juarez’s other charges. “We have the entire department still grieving. We have to do this all over again for one of our brothers in blue for such a senseless act,” said George Aranda, president of the Dallas chapter of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization.
City Council Delays Vote on One Confederate Statue, Votes Not to Sell Another. As Alex wrote yesterday, the Council voted to delay the decision on whether to remove the Confederate War Memorial downtown. Council members also voted not to sell the Robert E. Lee statue, but it’s unclear what they will do with it.
No Evidence Man in Grand Prairie Ikea Standoff Fired Gun. Carlos Deone High was killed earlier this week in a standoff near the Grand Prairie Ikea. An officer said that High fired at officers, so they fired back. But investigators haven’t found any evidence that High fired his rifle, although video footage confirms he did point the gun at officers and ignored verbal commands to lower it.
Fort Worth Gang Member Executed. Erick Davila had killed a rival’s mother and 5-year-old daughter in 2008 and was convicted of capital murder. His appeals to his death sentence were denied, and he was executed early yesterday evening. This is the fifth execution this year in Texas.
For the April issue of D Magazine,Mike Mooney wrote about the death of Jonathan Crews, shot in bed in his Coppell apartment in 2014. Crews’ girlfriend, Brenda Lazaro, the only other person in the apartment at the time, says that Crews pulled the trigger himself. But enough questions about the evening persist that the headline “Killer or Victim?” feels appropriate for Mooney’s story.
That story came about largely because of the efforts of Sheila Wysocki, a private investigator attached to the case. Mooney describes her like this:
Sheila Wysocki’s unusual path to working as a PI got her featured on 20/20 and in both People and the Washington Post. When she was a student at SMU in the mid-’80s, her roommate was raped and murdered. The case went unsolved until, 20 years later, living in Nashville, Tennessee, as a stay-at-home mom, Sheila had a vision about her roommate and decided to become an investigator. She started with background checks and cheating spouses and worked her way up to missing persons and murder. At her urging, after hundreds of calls to the Dallas Police Department, her roommate’s case was reopened, and the evidence was retested. The DNA matched a rapist who had been out on parole at the time of the murder.
Today, Sheila talks like a veteran detective, familiar with the unsettling details of far too many crime scenes. She works with a network of experts on everything from speech patterns to handwriting analysis. She’s 5-foot-5, with dark hair and glasses. She looks like a friend’s aunt or your kid’s teacher or that nice lady from church.
Great subject for a true crime podcast, right? The producers of the popular podcast Criminal thought so too, devoting two episodes to Wysocki this month. The first, “Cold Case,” covers Wysocki’s start as a PI, investigating the cold case murder of her college roommate at SMU. The second, “Shadowing Sheila,” goes deeper into her investigative work. I’m about halfway into the first episode, and it’s a pretty riveting listen. About as riveting as the feature from the April issue of D Magazine, which you can read here.
City Council Urges Atmos to Hurry Up. At yesterday’s briefing, City Council members told Atmos that their plan of replacing all cast-iron pipes in the city by 2023 isn’t fast enough. Atmos didn’t exactly say they would complete the fixes sooner, but said they’re looking at how to accelerate the process.
Staff and Parents at Garland School Didn’t Know about Shooting Threat for a Week. A former Garland Classical Academy student had posted a video on April 10 on social media saying he was going to shoot up the school. He was arrested that night, but the school’s director didn’t tell teachers, parents, or students about the threat until six days later. Teachers and parents say they should have been notified immediately and are angry over how the threat was handled.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Destroying Assault Weapons. The company is no longer selling assault rifles at its 35 Field & Stream locations, one of which is near Dallas, in Prosper. It’s also destroying and recycling the rifles instead of returning them to the manufacturer to get its money back.
OK, yesterday, as I do, I used the opportunity that arose when the Dallas Morning News more or less lost all of its Metro columnists (save Robert Wilonsky, with an asterisk) to do my head-fake, wait-it’s-just-dog-names thing. But I felt like we probably should really talk about whom the paper should hire to fill that void, because it is actually, in a way, a great chance to remake the paper.
I don’t have a specific name. If you do, feel free to drop it in the comments. I do have a type of writer I would like to see. To begin with, an actual writer. Someone who doesn’t use one-sentence paragraphs, who leaves me with a line that sticks in my head, who can think and express those thoughts with an economy of language. It is kind of sad this needs to be said, but it does.
It’s OK if that person is an occasional talking head. That’s the nature of the media landscape these days. But the column should be the focus. I want someone who does real reporting. That doesn’t mean one phone call, although that maybe is a step up. Someone with sources. Someone who leaves their desk and goes to see what they’re writing about. That did happen on occasion — when I ran for mayor, for example, Steve Blow came over to my house to interview me — but not nearly often enough. If Wilonsky is handling City Hall business, OK, fine, but there is plenty of other territory left to explore. I want someone who has a take, but a take that is informed by their first-hand reporting. Not just to be contrary or for a good headline.
Ideally, this person would not be white and/or a man. I guess I would settle for just hitting one of those marks. Under 40 would be nice, too. Someone from here or who has lived here more than a few years. Someone who loves the city, but not blindly. Would it kill them to have a sense of humor, too? I hope not.
Maybe the paper will just forego columnists and let their reporters write the occasional column. It seems like they have been exploring that, and if that’s the case, it’s a bad idea based on the small sample size. Mike Wilson has a chance to make a great hire here and reshape his newspaper. I hope he doesn’t blow it.
The Dallas Morning News’ Jacquielynn Floydand James Ragland have left the paper, following a round of layoffs that hit five other employees late last month and the promotion of longtime staffer Keith Campbell to managing editor on March 15.
With the departure of Steve Blow a few years ago, that leaves Dallas County’s paper of record with zero employees identified with the nebulously defined job title of “Metro columnist,” although Robert Wilonsky seems to often get the similar “city columnist” billing. And I suppose anyone remaining on the editorial board, introduced in a March 27 piece that now needs to be updated, could probably start calling themselves “Metro columnists” without getting too much pushback. Just two words that look nice on a business card.
Floyd got to wave farewell this week with an “I’m retiring at 59” column, while Ragland was apparently kept to a Facebook post that makes note, his “last day was March 23, 2018, although the official last day is April 16.” He opted for a “time…to part ways” euphemism, and is “mulling over some interesting opportunities,” both phrases I have heard used to justify bad breakups.
Connect all the above dots—and the Jan. 17 hire of Brendan Miniter as the paper’s new editor of editorials, and the promotion of Grant Moise to be the paper’s well-compensatednew publisher, and the paper’s downsizing move into new offices at the old Dallas library, and the ongoing decline of the newspaper industry—as you will. Onward and upward into the brave new era of digital content.
Earlier this week in the Cedars, crews started moving a historic blue house, one of the city’s oldest. It’s not going far to its new home at the corner of Browder and Beaumont streets, but when you’re moving a two-story Victorian-style home built in the 1880s, every trip is a long trip. It’s also one that will occur in four parts, as the house had to be quadrisected for its journey.
Part One must have arrived Thursday, because where there was once an empty lot near Lee Harvey’s, there is now a home. Most of the first floor of a home, anyways.
La Rondalla is an incredible after school music program located in Oak Cliff. Its founder, Dennis Gonzalez, runs it with his two sons, Stefan and Aaron (who also make up the trio Yells at Eels), as well as instructors who include guitarist Kenny Withrow, of New Bohemians fame, as well as a number of other notable local musicians. The program, which has been in operation since 2010, offers neighborhood kids an opportunity to learn how to play the instrument of their choice from some incredibly accomplished musicians. And here’s the kicker: it’s all free. Students sign up, show up, are given instruments, and they learn.
Unfortunately, La Rondalla has fallen on some tough times. The Dallas Observer has more info, but here’s the gist: the program has had to temporarily shut its doors in order to raise money to keep the program going. Here’s how you can help: the Gonzalez’s will be hosting a few benefit concerts over the next month, and they are accepting donation direct via PayPal. Here are the details:
The family has spread awareness via Facebook and is planning a two-day benefit garage sale from 7 a.m. until sundown April 7 and 8 at the La Rondalla building, 1107 W. Jefferson Blvd. There will also be a series of benefit concerts. The first is at 9 p.m. April 15 at Tradewinds Social Club, 2843 W. Davis St. The program is requesting donations of $5 or more, and a portion of all bar sales go to La Rondalla. A Spinsters Records benefit show and more benefit venues will be announced soon.
The quickest way to donate is via La Rondalla’s PayPal account at [email protected] with a note that says “donation for La Rondalla,” along with your name and email. Gonzalez says people have already begun to donate to the PayPal account.
Brantley Hargrove is a handsome man. As others have noted, he is “muscled, clean-shaven, with Greco-Romanesque locks.” He looks really good in Carhartt. I imagine he looks really good out of it, too.
Maybe that sounds like I’m objectifying him. Let’s start over.
Brantley Hargrove, the sometime D Magazine contributor and former Dallas Observer writer, will publish his first book this month. It is The Man Who Caught the Storm: The Life of Legendary Tornado Chaser Tim Samaras (Simon & Schuster). It’s a really good book. Kirkus Reviews wrote: “Brantley Hargrove is a dreamy hunk of a man who really turns our pages, if you get our meaning.”
That’s not true. I made that up. Here’s the Kirkus review. They called the book “enthralling,” and I agree. I’m not a big meteorology freak, and I don’t care about storm chasing. But Brantley had me hooked the whole way. I was especially impressed with how he was able to describe many storms, and lethal tornadoes in particular, without going purple or getting redundant. Kidding aside, Brantley is a great writer.
That’s why we excerpted his book in the April issue of D Magazine. Have yourself a taste, then go for the full meal. He’s delicious. I mean it’s delicious! The book!