Tag Archives: Dallas Texas

Best Quote of the Week – October 4, 2019

“I know I can speak for myself.  I forgive you.”

– Brandt Jean, 18-year-old brother of shooting victim Botham Jean, during his victim impact statement after the conviction of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger.

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Through a Tiny Window

On November 22, 1963, I was just less than 3 weeks old.  At the time, my parents and I lived in an apartment above a garage owned by father’s oldest sister and her husband on the northern edge of downtown Dallas.  Through the small bathroom window, my mother caught a glimpse of President Kennedy’s motorcade, as it raced towards Parkland Hospital.  She had no idea at that moment what tragedy had just unfolded.

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That siren; that God-awful siren!  It came from down the hall, and I had no idea why.  I had just turned on the TV to watch my show, “As the World Turns.”  My older sister got me hooked on it while I was on “maternity leave.”  Actually, in those days, there was no such thing.  Women just had to quit work and hope they had a job later, if they wanted it.  That’s fine, I’d told myself.  At that moment, with my new baby boy, I didn’t care about going back to a desk to argue insurance claims.

I’d almost died having him.  I wasn’t supposed to have him.  The doctors told me I just couldn’t have a baby.  But, my husband and I didn’t listen.  We turned our hopes to a higher authority.  I was almost 31, when he was born; so old to be a new mother back then.  I cuddled him close, as he quietly nursed; a diaper over his head.

It had been so hot – since summer!  Advice to future mothers: don’t get pregnant until summer passes.  Just a thought.  I had to sleep sitting up; otherwise, I’d choke to death.  We had a floor fan blowing all night to keep me cool.  My husband wore pajamas to bed that summer; the fan would make the room so cold for him.

But, why were those sirens so loud?  So many of them.  I scooted towards the bathroom window and looked to my right.  Through the trees in the back yard and the neighbors’ back yards I saw a flash of red lights and black cars.  Just a blur; a long streak of red and black.  For a second, I thought I also saw a flash of pink.  But, I think now it was just my imagination.

I knew President and Mrs. Kennedy were in town.  It would have been nice to go downtown to see them, but I couldn’t with the baby.  And, my husband had to go to work.

I went back into the front room, and the show had already started.  “Nancy” (Helen Wagner) was speaking to her father.  I don’t remember what they were talking about.  Then, without warning – in one of those moments that sears into your mind – Walter Cronkite interrupted the show.

And, said President Kennedy had been shot.

But, he was just here!

In Dallas.

The motorcade – that flash of red and black.  That’s what it was.

But, it was just there!

I’d just seen it.

I rushed back to the bathroom window.  I could see more traffic on Harry Hines.  I went back into the front room.

Walter Cronkite looked as if he was about to cry.  How do you announced something like that to millions of people and not break down?

I suddenly became terrified.  I had to call my husband.  Still cradling the baby, I dialed the phone from the bedroom.

The assistant manager – the owner’s brother-in-law – answered.

“I just saw on the news,” I told him.  “President Kennedy’s been shot!”

He was silent for a second.  “Is this a joke?”

“No!”  Why would he even ask that?  We didn’t joke about those things back then.

“Cathy, turn on the radio!” he said.

I looked at my baby, still nursing, oblivious to the world around him.  Is this the world he would inherit?  Where the president of the United States gets shot in broad daylight?

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My husband came home early.  His boss had closed down the shop.  He was happy to see me and the baby.  But, he was as shocked as me – and angry.  “What’s wrong?”

“Some dumb son-of-a-bitch at work said he was glad Kennedy had been shot!”

Who would be happy about that?

That whole weekend – that entire, awful weekend – all we saw on TV was about Kennedy.  None of us could believe it.  My husband’s family gathered at his parents’ home to watch the funeral.  The black horse that wouldn’t cooperate; the long procession; the masses of people.  When John-John saluted his father, we all just about lost it.  This wasn’t really happening, was it?  I couldn’t say it out loud.  This couldn’t be happening – right?

Then, amidst the sadness and completely out of nowhere, one of my husband’s sisters-in-law asked, “Why are the flags only halfway up the poles?”

We all thought for a second or so and then, just looked at her.  Here she was, a hair dresser at an upscale salon, earning thousands of dollars every month when most people in those days only got by on a couple of hundred dollars, and she asks that.

My husband, sitting next to me, said, “Because they ran out of string.”

And, if I say we all felt guilty when we laughed, I’m not lying.  We literally burst out laughing.  Only my husband could say something like that and get away with it.  He then picked up a box of tissue and began offering some to everybody.

If I think about it now, it really hurts.  How could that happen?  Here!  Why did that happen?  That baby I held is now a half-century old, and the world is a much more violent place.

I close my eyes and think for a moment.

And can hear those sirens.

And see that flash of red and black.

And Nancy’s face.

And Walter Cronkite’s twisted mouth.

All from that tiny window.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

© 2013

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Now Dallas, You Can Move Forward

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For the past half century, the city of Dallas, Texas has been defined by three elements: the Dallas Cowboys, the television show “Dallas” and the assassination of the country’s 35th president, John F. Kennedy.  I’ve always admired Kennedy.  He was a true military hero who barely survived World War II.  He was witty and charming with a strong vision for America’s future.  In his inaugural address, he uttered the most inspirational words I’ve ever heard: “And so, my fellow, Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”  It was a challenge for a country that – although already accustomed to them – to do more.  It’s certainly something this nation, filled with self-righteous individuals, needs today.  It’s why I vote regularly and speak out when I see injustice.  If you want your society to work for you properly, you have to be willing to do something right for it.

Several years ago, while working my first job as a package clerk at a nearby grocery store, a woman from California asked me how I felt about the city of Dallas.  It was a curious question.  But, it was her first trip to Texas, and she just wanted to know.  She mentioned that, in her native California in 1963, her fellow citizens immediately came to loathe the city of my birth and the entire state of Texas.  She saw people hurtle rocks and bottles at a couple of cars that bore Texas license plates.  Then, I told her I was only 17 days old on the day Kennedy died and that my mother had seen the presidential motorcade race by the garage apartment where we lived on its way to Parkland Hospital – though at the time, she had no idea what had just transpired.  She was nursing me and had sat down to watch “As the World Turns” – a program she’d become addicted to while on maternity leave – and just happened to hear the sirens in the distance; blaring through the open bathroom window.  Not until she returned to the front room to resume watching her show and Walter Cronkite interrupted did everything change.

The California woman – a blonde in her early 40s – froze.  The event became personal again.

It’s a good thing for a city to be associated with a great sports team.  After the horror of the Kennedy assassination, the Dallas Cowboys had the burden of transforming the city into “America’s team.”  Its image as a real estate and oil metropolis were certified in “Dallas,” one of the cheesiest programs the American entertainment community has ever produced.  Fortunately, I know the real Dallas, and I’m happy to announce it’s not that bad.  This place of nearly 2 million people is a blue enclave in a red state.  The city boasts a non-White majority population that still trends Democratic in presidential elections.  In 1995, Dallas elected Ron Kirk as mayor, the first Black to hold that office.  In 2004, Dallas County elected Lupe Valdez as its first Hispanic, female and openly gay or lesbian sheriff.  Two years later it elected Craig Watkins as its first Black district attorney.  There are two schools named after Kennedy here: Kennedy-Curry Middle School and John F. Kennedy Learning Center.  It’s a city with a diverse population and an international reach.  Yes, it boasts its share of crackpots.  Show me a city this size that doesn’t and I’ll show you a pile of rocks.

When word about Kennedy’s death spread throughout my father’s workplace, a printing company on the edge of downtown, an older man groused that Kennedy deserved to be shot because he was Catholic.  My father, then in his early 30s and unafraid to speak his mind, snapped back, “You son of a bitch!  He was our president!”

Several years ago, while working as a contractor for a government agency, my company’s liaison – a hard-right Republican who almost got teary-eyed whenever he mentioned Ronald Reagan’s name – unexpectedly commented that the Kennedy assassination was “one of the best days in this country’s history.”  The three of us standing there with him – my supervisor, a coworker and me – were literally startled.  The statement had come out of nowhere.

Even I who despised Ronald Reagan got scared when he was shot in 1981.  “No!” I announced to the man, while standing beside my supervisor.  “The day Kennedy was shot was one of the worst days this country has ever experienced!”  I reiterated how, on the day Reagan fell victim to a crazed gunman, I was glued to the television.  My mother arrived home from work and sat down to watch a local broadcast – and began to cry.  It had only been a little more than 17 years since Kennedy’s death, and the nightmare had been rejuvenated.

I stormed out of my supervisor’s office, genuinely pissed off, and returned to my desk.  The man, twice my size with an equally imposing voice, followed me and meekly apologized.

Every major metropolitan area has its extremists; its cache of lunatics who are filled with vile against anyone and anything they don’t like.  There were certainly plenty of them in Dallas in the early 1960s.  But, the nation was at the start of a cultural tumult, and such types filled a lot of cities, especially in the Deep South.  It had been a century since the start of the Civil War, and many White Southerners didn’t like the thought of Negroes gaining equality.  When Lyndon Johnson and his wife, Claudia (whom Lyndon affectionately dubbed “Lady Bird”), visited Dallas in September of 1960, they were met, in part, by a hostile crowd.  Although a native Texan and then-Senate majority leader, Johnson was vilified by some folks as duplicitous in a liberal Yankee agenda (e.g. civil rights for Negroes) by agreeing to run on the Kennedy ticket.  As the Johnsons exited a downtown theatre, a young woman lunged forward and snatched Mrs. Johnson’s white gloves from her dainty hands.  Lady Bird’s face turned as white as the gloves that ended up in a sewer.  The senator hustled his wife into a waiting car and hurtled an invective back towards the angry crowd.

When Kennedy died, it had been 13 years since someone made a concerted attempt to assassinate a sitting U.S. president; 18 years since one had died in office; and 62 years since one had been killed.  At age 43, Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected to the U.S. presidency, the first born in the 20th century – and the last to die in office.  His death shocked the nation – and the world – into a new, more brutal reality.  Few could fathom such evil in those days.  Kennedy’s vision for a better nation held so much hope.  That a lone gunman with a Napoleonic complex could possibly destroy the beautiful stones of Camelot with three bolts of lead hadn’t entered the public conscious.

When I was a senior in high school, an English teacher told me everything that erupted in the 1960s had been brewing the previous decade; a time many still view through a delicate stained glass window.  Historians and various cultural observers now agree that Kennedy’s assassination is when the 1960s actually began.  The moment a bullet pulverized the skull of the handsome, young president and compelled his beautiful, glamorous wife to clamber onto the back of the limousine to gather the bloody fragments – like a tomboy collecting rocks – is when that stained glass window shattered.  The patriotism of the 1940s and the economic security of the 1950s collapsed into the reality of a cold, dispassionate universe.  As a whole, Americans realized the nation hadn’t lived up to its ideals of equality and freedom for all.  The Watergate scandal then seemed to confirm things aren’t always how they seem, and we needed to start questioning authority.

The exact moment when everything changed in America.

The exact moment when everything changed in America.

What’s often ignored about Kennedy’s visit to Texas is the overwhelming joy with which he and his wife, Jacqueline, were greeted.  When the couple arrived in neighboring Fort Worth late on November 21, a large, enthusiastic group had gathered in the rain to see them.  As the motorcade cruised through downtown Dallas on that bright, sunny Friday afternoon, hundreds of people lined the streets; waving and cheering.  At one point, Nellie Connally, the wife of Texas governor John Connally, turned to the president and gleefully pointed out that Dallas enjoyed the First Couple’s presence.  They did; they really did.

Several years ago someone painted a white X in the middle of Elm Street, identifying the exact spot where Kennedy was hit.  Somehow that dubious insignia withstood rain, sleet, triple-digit temperatures and Dallas drivers.  Recently, however, the city paved over it as part of a concerted infrastructure improvement plan.  But, it was also a symbolic move.  No, Dallas can’t just get over what happened here on this day five decades ago; pretending it was nothing more than a rough afternoon.  Yes, we grieve today about one of the most tragic events of the 20th century.  That’s the honorable thing to do.  But, we also need to consider Kennedy’s view of a better world – and then move forward.  We have no other choice.

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John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library

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Still Hurts

Santos Rodriguez, right, stands with his brother David next to a relative’s car just a month before Santos’ death.

Santos Rodriguez, right, stands with his brother David next to a relative’s car just a month before Santos’ death in 1973.

Today marks an ignominious scar in the history of Dallas, Texas.  It’s the 40th anniversary of the death of a 12-year-old boy by a Dallas police officer playing a game.  It began innocuously enough.  In the pre-dawn hours of July 24, 1973, Dallas police received a report that three boys were spotted fleeing a gas station where a vending machine had been burglarized of $8.  Officer Roy Arnold spotted the youths, but couldn’t catch up with them.  Yet, he thought he recognized two of them, brothers David and Santos Rodriguez.  They’d been in trouble before.  He summoned his partner, Darrell L. Cain, and the duo drove to the East Dallas home of the boys’ 80-year-old maternal grandfather, Carlos Miñez, who didn’t speak much English.

The officers immediately took custody of the boys, handcuffed them and drove them back to the scene of the crime.  The boys proclaimed their innocence, but the policemen demanded the name of the third suspect.  Cain sat in the back seat of the squad car, next to David.  He figured a way to get the boys to talk.  He pulled out his gun and emptied it of bullets, before pointing it to the back of Santos’ head.

The Rodriguez brothers had too much against them from the start.  They were a little more than a year apart in age; born to a teenage mother and an illegal immigrant father.  David, Sr., had already been deported to México, and their 29-year-old mother, Bessie, was in jail; charged with killing an abusive boyfriend a few years earlier.  All of that fed into the myth much of Dallas’ White society held of the city’s Hispanic citizens: illegal, uneducated Mexican immigrants who had too many kids too soon and bore a criminal mindset.  That was pretty much the same view of Dallas’ Black residents.  At the time, less than a quarter of Dallas citizens were non-White.  Hispanics clustered mostly in the western and eastern edges, while Blacks were relegated to the increasingly impoverished southern sector.  Both groups had tolerated disrespect and harassment from police for decades.  Then, it all came to a boil that dark summer morning.

“I bet I can get him to talk,” Cain said, emptying his gun.  Pressing the barrel of the firearm to the back of Santos’ head, he again demanded the name of the ubiquitous third burglary suspect.  He pulled the trigger, and there was a click.  Santos again feverishly denied knowing anything about the incident.  Cain pulled the trigger a second time, and a flash of light flooded the car, along with the smell of gunpowder.  He’d missed one bullet left in the chamber.

“You’re going to be alright,” a terrified David shouted to his brother, as the officers bolted from the vehicle like frightened little animals.  Blood filled the car floor.  Santos wasn’t alright.

That was it; that was the catalyst for the city’s minority populations.  The city erupted into a frenzy of protests and violence that had besieged other metropolitan areas years earlier.  I was 9 years old that summer and, albeit obsessed with my new German shepherd puppy, I stopped to look at the fiasco; my naïve and innocent mind trying to fathom what happened.

As one might expect in those days, given the city’s history, Cain wasn’t really held accountable.  He lost his job and went on trial in Austin where the case had been moved because of local publicity.  He was found guilty by an all-White jury and sentenced to 5 years in prison; he served only half.  In 1978, the U.S. Justice Department refused to prosecute Cain under federal civil rights statutes, since he’d already been tried in state court.

While Cain adamantly insisted the shooting was an accident and described himself as traumatized in a 1998 interview with the Dallas Morning News – the only time he’s spoken publicly about the tragedy – it seemed the culmination of a long series of events that had occurred for as long as anyone could remember.  Police stopping Black and Brown people on the street; forcing their way into residents’ homes in the dead of night; pulling them over for the most mundane of traffic-related transgressions.  The civil rights movements that had rattled the nation for years finally reached the streets of Dallas – avenues trembling with anger and tension.  Every forest fire needs just one tiny spark to inflame the dry brush.  We were slightly less than a decade removed from the Kennedy assassination.  And then, this happened.

It was truly a different time.  Today, Hispanics make up 42% of Dallas’ population, while Blacks comprise about 25%Roughly half of the city’s police officers are non-White, as are nearly half of police sergeants.  Dallas has a Black police chief, David O. Brown.  If juveniles are suspected of criminal behavior, a judge must approve of any interrogation.

In light of the recent George Zimmerman – Travyon Martin case, I wonder, though, how much has changed.  In general, the U.S. wasn’t consumed by the kind if violence we see now.  There were no ‘Right-to-Carry’ laws.  Police across the nation try their best to interact with the public, instead of behaving like ravenous vultures.  The Rodriguez event seemed so long ago, and of course, it really was.  But, whenever a child dies, it always hurts.  No one can ever make up for it; we can only try to move forward.

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