Bill Moyers examines how violence is affecting American life through a report on Dallas, Texas, which has the highest crime rate of any American city with a population above 500,000. The program visits a hospital emergency room, citizens who patrol their neighborhoods and follows a police officer who patrols one of the most dangerous beats in Dallas.
BILL MOYERS: Tonight from Dallas, So Violent a Nation.
Welcome to Listening To America. I’m Bill Moyers. We Texans pride ourselves on talking tough. On crime our politicians especially talk tough. Take a look at what I mean, starting with this political commercial our current Secretary of State James Baker used when he was running for Attorney General in Texas in 1978.
JAMES BAKER, Secretary of State: [1978 Political Ad] Listen to this. A man sentenced to 99 years on a narcotics charge is released on $20,000 bond. Result: A police officer killed. A family destroyed. With easy paroles and sentences that are not enforced, we ask for trouble and we get it. The next Attorney General should be the toughest man in Texas. He has to be. I intend to be.
Gov. MARK WHITE: [Political Ad] These hardened criminals will never again murder, rape, or deal drugs. As Governor I made sure they received the ultimate punishment: death. And Texas is a safer place for it.
ANNOUNCER: [Political Ad] He’s carried out 32 death penalties and fought against early release of criminals. Seventy-five sheriffs and the combined law enforcement associations of Texas have endorsed Jim Mattox. They know he’ll be tough on crime and drugs.
CLAYTON WILLIAMS, Gubernatorial Candidate: [Political Ad] If we’re really going to win this war on drugs, we’ve got to attack it on all fronts. I’d start early. Beginning in kindergarten I’d teach the three D’s: Don’t Do Drugs. Teenagers smoking marijuana. I’ll take away their driver’s license. And if they keep doing drugs, I’ll put them in the boot camp. Military discipline, drug counseling, and I’ll introduce them to the joys of busting rocks.
ANNOUNCER: [Political Ad] In the war against crime and drugs, our safety and our children are at stake. And for too long thugs have had the upper hand. But Phil Gramm and other crime fighters are taking back our streets. Phil Gramm got mandatory jail time for drug pushers and the death penalty for thugs who kill cops. Police officers from all over Texas and even 58 Democratic sheriffs endorse Phil Gramm. Because in the war on crime; Phil’s on our side.
BILL MOYERS: Well, despite all that tough talk by our politicians, the United States still has the highest murder rate in the world. 25,000 murders occurred in this country last year. We’ve come to Dallas to examine how one city confronts crime in so violent a nation. The FBI says that among our largest cities, those with more than a half million people, Dallas has the highest crime rate in America. Someone is murdered here, on the average, every 17 and a half hours. Reporter/producer Terry FitzPatrick of KERA looks at the impact violent crime is having on the people of Dallas.
SINGER: [voice-over] I’m in the presence of Jesus right now.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Randy Wright was 15 years old when his parents buried him this spring. He had been in trouble with the police, and in March a neighbor shot Wright with a rifle after he broke into the neighbor’s car.
KENNETH GRANT, Youth Counselor: When I look around this room, I’m frightened to death that we may be doing this again tomorrow night for one of you. Now, you ask me what’s wrong and I have to tell you and I have to be honest, because I’m getting tired of doing this. Watching our young people’s lives snuffed out for nothing. Your lives are not worth anything except a quarter. It’s not worth anything except a cigarette. It’s only worth somebody stepping on your feet. You can’t sit on your porch at night without somebody driving by to shoot at you. You – you – you can’t go to the grocery store. The parks are off limits after dark. We can’t do anything because some of us have decided that the only way out is down.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: This was Randy Wright last summer. He was going to a special camp for inner city teenagers.
RANDY WRIGHT: Just to – just to – just – stay out of trouble and keep you out, keep you from getting in trouble and messing up your life and your record.
CAMP COUNSELLOR: That’s right. Teamwork!
TERRY FITZPATRICK: This camp, called Journey, is a place where kids can have fun instead of having to watch their backs.
RANDY WRIGHT: I’m tired of getting in trouble, so – and then – and then I see my record [unintelligible] about that big.
KENNETH GRANT: And we watched him make all of the efforts and all of the preparations and all of the things that it take to turn your life around, we watched him do it. But this is a cruel, sick world. There’s something wrong when we have decided to destroy ourselves. You need to let Randy tell you something, for he is speaking louder now than he has ever spoken before. And you need to hear him.
ANCHOR MAN: Police were called to a house in North Oak Cliff just before 9:00 this morning after residents heard gun shots. When they arrived-
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Violent crime has many Dallas residents feeling besieged. Every day the news is dominated by another murder, another robbery.
ANCHOR WOMAN: A close call on a Dallas school bus this morning. The bus was fired upon while it was picking up kids in East Dallas. A young man reportedly-
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Texas prisons are so overcrowded that inmates are paroled early to make room for new prisoners. The city of Dallas spends more than one-third of its general budget on the Police Department, but residents still complain at community meetings that crime is ruining their neighborhoods.
1st DALLAS CITIZEN: As a citizen, I do not want one additional police officer killed in the war on drugs.
2nd DALLAS CITIZEN: The dope man is out there. They don’t have nothing to do, and that’s who’s getting our children.
3rd DALLAS CITIZEN: Pass a code that will enable the Police Department to keep guns from the hands of criminals.
DISPATCHER: [unintelligible] one.
PARAMEDIC: Just don’t do it, don’t move. This won’t take us very long.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: You can see the effects of violent crime on Saturday nights at any hospital emergency room.
DR. BILL NANCE: Just devastating. It’s changed a lot between the time that I’ve been in practice in emergency medicine. We’ve gone from maybe once or twice a month I’d see a gunshot wound, and to a standard night now I might see seven or eight people who’ve been shot or stabbed. It’s just continuous out there now.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Last July, Dallas hospitals were forced to cancel non-emergency surgery for nearly a week because gunshot victims left the city’s blood banks in short supply.
DR. BILL NANCE: And there’s just not enough capacity in the system to take care of all the people that are getting wounded. I mean, there’s a war going on in our streets that’s far bigger than anything that happened in Vietnam.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Nationwide we’re killing each other at a higher rate and in greater numbers than 30 years ago. In 1961, 9,000 Americans were murdered. In 1991, more than 25,000 were murdered. The number of murders per 100,000 people doubled in those three decades. And reports of other violent crimes in the United States – rape, robbery, and aggravated assault – have increased 388 percent. In Dallas, the murder rate is five times the national average. Last year in this city of one million people, there were 500 murders. Other violent crimes happen here at a rate more than three times the national average. Last year Dallas police reported more than 1,200 rapes, 11,000 robberies, and 13,000 aggravated assaults. Eighteen-year-old Anthony Petty came close to becoming a statistic last month. He was grazed in the head by gunfire. Petty was walking with friends and says another youth mistook him for a gang member.
ANTHONY PETTY: Now after he had shot, you know, shot the gun and all, then like six more guys started running up and all of them pulled out guns, and we all ran. And I just got lucky.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Petty says his cousin was not so lucky when he moved to Dallas in 1990.
ANTHONY PETTY: And, like, the second day here he was killed. He got shot two times in the back of the head with a .357 and twice in the back. Just walking down the sidewalk with his two little brothers, 3 and 4. And they witnessed, you know, their older brother get shot down in cold blood. And he walked like a whole block before he fell and hit the ground. And I think that’s going to have some effect on his little brothers and maybe they might grow up violent. And I hope not.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: The rise in violent crime has caused people to take dramatic steps to protect themselves. Many people have turned their homes into fortresses. Some school children are searched for weapons on the way to class.
SARAH LA PERE: This is our self-defense brush. Has a dual purpose. You can keep your hair beautiful and all fixed up as well as protect yourself with it.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Sarah La Pere sells self-defense equipment and makes purses for women to conceal a pistol.
SARAH LA PERE: Fifteen or 20 years ago we had husbands that would take care of us or we were at home taking care of the children. It’s – it’s not a family life like that any longer, and we’re out and we have to take care of ourselves.
SHOOTING INSTRUCTOR: Okay, think about the biggest room in your house, 15, 20 feet across at the most? That’s going to be probably the longest shot you’ll ever take.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: A Time Magazine poll in 1989 found that 27 percent of American gun owners bought their weapons for self-defense. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms says there are more than 67 million handguns in the United States. This class is the first time that Linda Ainsworth, an accountant, has ever fired a gun.
SHOOTING INSTRUCTOR: There you go!
LINDA AINSWORTH, Accountant: Our neighborhood is changing. There are things going on, houses are being broken into, cars are being broken into, people are exposing themselves to children, things like that that are happening. It’s just a general moral decay, it seems.
The police have their hands full, and I feel like, you know, we really need to protect ourselves.
ANCHOR WOMAN: Police say 31-year-old Sergeant Tony Crawford remained conscious in the ambulance, telling officers he’d been shot by two teenagers. Police-
TERRY FITZPATRICK: The brutal shooting of Dallas Police Sergeant Tony Crawford shocked the city in November. It showed how even those most prepared for a violent confrontation can become victims themselves.
ANCHOR WOMAN: Crawford underwent surgery at Baylor Medical Center for a bullet lodged against his spine.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Crawford was shot in the back and then beaten outside a Dallas elementary school. He survived and is struggling to regain the use of his legs. And when the shooting occurred, you could see the impact of violent crime in Dallas in the eyes of its Chief of Police.
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: I’m very upset about that shooting incident last night. I’m outraged by it. As a matter of fact, and I think it’s a – an opportunity for Dallas, I think it’s an opportunity for the State of Texas to recognize that we have a major problem with violence, and it’s time to do something about it. It’s time to recognize that we have to reduce the number of guns on the street, certainly not increase it, as some people might have us do. It’s time for a change.
BILL MOYERS: I was in Dallas last November on a visit, and it was that news conference with Chief Rathburn that prompted me to want to do this broadcast. Bill Rathburn worked for the Los Angeles Police Department for 27 years. He’s been Chief of Police in Dallas since January 1991. Chief, you’ve been in law enforcement for almost 30 years now. Why do you think, during that period of time, violent crime has increased so dramatically?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: Well, it’s not a simple question to answer, obviously. But my assessment is that we can’t hire enough police officers to turn the situation around drastically. What we have to look to is the basic control mechanisms that have served us as a society so well for thousands of years.
BILL MOYERS: Control mechanisms?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: Yeah. Self-control the most basic, family control, neighborhood control, religion, and then government. Government being the least effective of those control mechanisms. And what we’re doing is trying – expecting the police officers and other government agencies to replace the family, to replace self-control. And we can’t do it.
BILL MOYERS: In that news conference you called for a change. You called for gun control. Has anything happened since you made that call?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: No, no. In fact, there’s really hasn’t even been that much talk about it. I keep stressing it. Gun control is a very emotional issue, and one reason it is that – is that everybody’s definition of gun control is different.
BILL MOYERS: What kind of gun control do you think would reduce the incidence of violent crime?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: Well, let me give you one example. In Texas, a convicted felon can possess a gun. Now, he can’t buy a gun, it’s against federal – against federal law to purchase a firearm if you’re a convicted felon. But in Texas you can possess a gun. If you’re convicted of a violent crime, you cannot possess that gun outside of your home, but you can possess it in your home, even if that crime of violence is against a family member. And so that makes no sense at all. I think at least we ought to take guns away from people who we know are – are felons, they’ve been convicted by the – by the courts and been sentenced to some time in prison. So I think – I think that’s a beginning. But it’s only a beginning. One thing that causes enormous fear in the community, in this community, I think most major communities, is gunfire. People – every neighborhood I go to in Dallas, people say, ”We hear gunfire and it scares us to death.” So I think we ought to do something, too, about people who shoot guns in densely populated, urban areas like the city of Dallas.
BILL MOYERS: Mm-hmm. Amon Rashidi is a case-worker for the East Dallas Boys’ Club. He works with youth at risk and runs the summer camp for troubled kids that you saw in the opening video. Mr. Rashidi, do you think gun control is the answer to reducing the crime rate here in Dallas?
AMON RASHIDI, Boys Clubs of Dallas: I think it would be a part of the solution. But I think collectively we’ve historically dealt with problems after the fact. I think we need to start in the early prevention stage if we’re really going to take control of this situation that exists not only in Dallas but in the whole country.
BILL MOYERS: Why do you think crime has gotten out of hand?
AMON RASHIDI: Crime has always been out of hand in America. This country was based and – and built on the premise of violence. And we shouldn’t be surprised that it – the violence is continually being perpetuated to this day. You have social structures being broke down, as you said earlier. You have the family that’s been desensitized. And then the public school system is saying, ”Well, that’s not my job.” Where your job is whatever society needs for the public school system to be.
BILL MOYERS: Someone told me that you have said previously that gun control is really irrelevant in minority communities, because there, owning a gun is a matter of survival.
AMON RASHIDI: Gun control is not going to stop me from running into a guy on the street who will sell me a 9 millimeter for $50 or $400. That’s something that’s got to be done internally within the community to deal with that.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
AMON RASHIDI: Well, I think early intervention, I think dealing with the social ills that – that cause crime, the – the social root causes that cause crime. And when you look in communities, you’ll find out, when you get an inadequate social services, it primarily happens in low-income communities, which is black and Hispanic. So there’s a sense of hopelessness there that says, “Well, nobody cares about me anyway, so I got to do it for myself.”
BILL MOYERS: Almost half of all the crimes – of all the murder victims in this country are black, even though blacks make up only 12 percent of the population. How do you explain the – the high rate of – of violent crime in the African-American community?
AMON RASHIDI: I think it’s perpetuation of self-hatred, based on the fact of ignorance, a lack of knowledge of the historical past. There are no images that reflect positive images of these youth. When they see themselves in the textbooks, they see themselves in a negative image, and automatically that perpetuates a system of shame. To give you an example, as I watch young black youth intermingled together, if they get into a conflict, the first thing that one may say to the other, “Well, you black big-nose or you black this.” Look and examine what he’s saying. He’s cursing every feature and characteristic that is inalienably his own characteristic, because he’s not comfortable with who he is. So that’s an onus that needs to be reflected upon our society as a whole.
BILL MOYERS: There are people in Dallas who believe that, regardless of what the police do, they have to take control of matters in their own neighborhoods, take the issue in their own hands. Let’s look at this report that KERA did about a couple of crime fighters in Dallas.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Gloria Burleson is a homemaker in one of the wealthiest sections of Dallas. Fahim Minkah is a community activist in one of the poorest and most dangerous parts of the city. Their lives are worlds apart, but both are so concerned about crime that they’ve begun to patrol their neighborhoods.
GLORIA BURLESON, Neighborhood Watch Leader: I’ve had people say, you know, “What? Crime happens here? I thought we lived in a really nice neighborhood. I didn’t think crime really happened here.”
You know, my response is, “Well, you know, we got more than one TV, we got more than one VCR, of course they’re going to come here.” And – and if you fail to realize that, you’re living in a bubble.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: While Gloria Burleson is on the watch for burglars in the alleys of North Dallas, Fahim Minkah leads periodic armed patrols in apartment buildings where drug dealers do business.
FAHIM MINKAH: Well, see, they pick weak areas, they pick weak, unorganized areas, and what’s weaker than a – a lower-income, multi-family complex, primarily female-headed households?
That’s the weakest. The responsibility is to get actively involved and physically take back the neighborhoods.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: In North Dallas, whenever there’s a rash of burglaries, Gloria Burleson alerts her neighbors.
GLORIA BURLESON: The Crime Alert signs have been posted to update you on current crime trends in our neighborhood.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Crime prevention is a bit of a hobby for Burleson. She’s begun to write crime reports for her weekly neighborhood newspaper. This Voice Mail system is for news that can’t wait.
GLORIA BURLESON: Suspicious cars entering our neighborhood late at night, we record the license, and we’re finding out a great majority of these are from Carrolltown or Irving, Texas, that have no business in our neighborhood. Half of the crime goes unreported, even in this neighborhood. You get a – a stuff stolen out of the garage and their attitude is, “Well, why should I call the police? I mean, what are they going to do about it?”
FAHIM MINKAH: Those used to be the worst apartments over there, the green trim. They called it ”The Hole.” The drug dealers just really ran the place.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Fahim Minkah often calls the police, but he says authorities have neglected Southern Dallas. So have many apartment owners whose buildings have become a center for drug dealers.
FAHIM MINKAH: It was permitted to get that way. Drug dealers were permitted to openly solicit, just like they were doing something legal. Just openly solicit. And there were not – the resources were not applied to stop that. It is time that we reclaimed our rightful role as the leaders in the protection of our women and children.
MEN IN CROWD: That’s right! That’s right! That’s right!
FAHIM MINKAH: Don’t be – don’t be deceived about that.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Minkah is a former Black Panther who’s been organizing anti-drug efforts since 1988. Minkah has been in trouble with the law himself, serving four years for conspiracy and aiding a bank robbery, a charge he says was trumped up by authorities to disorganize the Black Panthers in Dallas.
CRIME PATROLER: In the apartments we go out and we patrol every apartment [unintelligible]
TERRY FITZPATRICK: These days Minkah leads a group called The African Men Against Narcotics. Police quietly condone their armed street patrols.
FAHIM MINKAH: You have to have varied tactics for varied situations or your enemy could just pounce. You know, he says, “Well, you know, they won’t fight back, so we just go in and whup their behind.” What these weapons say is that we’re willing to meet fire with fire, and we’ve tried everything to stop the shooting around here, and it looks like this is what it takes to stop the shooting.
GLORIA BURLESON: There’s been a few times where I’ve had some heart-stoppers, coming through alleys. And – and that’s why I kind of like to look between these houses, because I’ve had people jump out right in front of my car. And it can be – it’ll stop your heart real quick.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Sometimes the crime in Gloria Burleson’s neighborhood is more serious than burglary. Two years ago a child molester stalked this community.
GLORIA BURLESON: It was scary for the neighborhood. I think the people are more leery of things happening, people creeping in the dark. I mean, you – you’re probably more likely to get shot walking around houses at night here, because I think people are still pretty jumpy about what this neighborhood did experience.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Burleson says the challenge is to get people to prevent crime before they become victims. For Fahim Minkah, the mission is to end the drug-related violence that’s become a way of life.
FAHIM MINKAH: I see this as a – one of the greatest threats to our people, and this alone could keep our people from organizing themselves properly to really get the social justice that we deserve.
BILL MOYERS: Chief Rathburn, doesn’t that sort of armed patrol, that sort of activity, turn the streets into a civil war?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: I think it has the potential for creating some additional violence, really. And I don’t advocate people arming themselves and conducting those kind of patrols. I know Fahim Minkah. 1 think he does a good job. But I think what really needs to be happening in the neighborhoods that Fahim is concerned about is there ought to be armed police officers walking with the people in the neighborhood, protecting them.
BILL MOYERS: Why aren’t they there?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: Well, that’s-we’re working on that. We’re trying to…
BILL MOYERS: Not [crosstalk] really – not really enough money?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN:[crosstalk] We can’t – no, it’s – it’s – we – it’s a matter of prioritizing. We haven’t built the kind of relationship where they call-they come to us and say, “Walk with us.” And we haven’t built the kind of – and we haven’t gone out and said, you know, “We want to walk with you.” So it’s – it’s a – it’s a matter of coming together, and we – we’re not there yet.
BILL MOYERS: Donya Witherspoon is a victims’ rights advocate, a law student at Southern Methodist University here in Dallas, and a volunteer at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center. She’s writing a book on child homicides. In 1983, her own mother was beaten to death with a hammer in her Ardmore, Oklahoma, home. The killer was never caught. Ms. Witherspoon, are many crime victims out there trying to take the streets back?
Ms. DONYA WITHERSPOON, Victims’ Rights Advocate: A lot of them are afraid, and most – that I personally know don’t react by taking guns out into the streets. They react by becoming very inward and very closed off from society. And what I see in society is us becoming more and more stratified and more and more detached from our fellow human beings. Not more out in the streets.
BILL MOYERS: Do people pay attention to you when you talk as a crime victim, or do they react to you emotionally rather than rationally?
DONYA WITHERSPOON: I think that one of the most difficult things about experiencing that kind of gruesome violence in your life is it shuts you off into a world of silence, where very few people really want to talk about what it’s like to be me.
BILL MOYERS: Is that why victims’ lobbyists are generally not very effective? Take the Bradys, you know, James Brady and his wife who-.
DONYA WITHERSPOON: Right.
BILL MOYERS: President Reagan’s former press secretary, who have tried so hard to get Congress to pass a national gun control bill. They can’t do it.
DONYA WITHERSPOON: Right. I think that victims’ voices are frequently devalued, no doubt about it. I was horrified this week to read in the paper a story about a man that was shot, I think in a bar somewhere, bad crime area. And the headline was something to the effect that you live by the sword, you die by the sword. You know? And that sort of attitude is just ridiculous, because we’re talking about some victims’ lives being worth more than other victims’ lives, when we’ve got to start talking about human beings all being valuable, and no one deserving to be a victim.
BILL MOYERS: What about solutions? What would you like to see politicians say and do about crime?
DONYA WITHERSPOON: Something besides talk.
BILL MOYERS: But what?
DONYA WITHERSPOON: I would like to see our society become open to all members of its community, and for all of those people to take part in the community. I think-
BILL MOYERS: And – what do you mean?
DONYA WITHERSPOON: When people talk about they want things to be like the good old days when we didn’t have so much crime, I think that what they’re talking about is having a sense of belonging, a sense of being somebody, a sense of your own self-importance and your connection to the community in which you live.
BILL MOYERS: Well, when I grew up in a little town not far from here, I – I felt protected by that community. I felt that – and I knew that if I got in trouble, somebody was going to call Shorty Blackman, the Deputy Sheriff, and – and he was going to call my father. Are you saying that that sort of possibility doesn’t exist now?
DONYA WITHERSPOON: Was it fear that made you what you were, or was it a sense of also being loved in that community and people caring about you?
BILL MOYERS: There were boundaries. There were lines. I knew almost intuitively, by the moral instruction of the community, that I just couldn’t – I could go this far and no further. If I grew up in Marshall, Texas, carrying a gun, I can assure you, they would be afraid of me. How can you not be afraid of a young person, a young man carrying a gun?
DONYA WITHERSPOON: I slept with a shotgun for five years, a loaded shotgun, the five years after my mother died. That’s after I got back in the bedroom after months of not even being able to go in a bedroom. And I can tell you that I didn’t feel any better, and survival took on a different meaning for me. And I can – for me, I can tell you that survival is not about when I’m going to die. Survival’s about how I live. And I choose not to live that way anymore.
AMON RASHIDI: I think what has happened, we’ve become a country that has collectively always dealt with apprehension and prosecution. If you do this, I’m going to get you. If you do this, I’m going to put you there. The excessive amount of money that the penal system has put forward to apprehend people and to lock them up, and we’re continually building jails.
BILL MOYERS: That’s what the politicians are responding to. I mean, here in Texas you just voted $1.2 billion to build nine new prisons, and that’s because people are afraid of crime, so they put – they – they appeal to the politicians, and the politicians say, “Let’s lock them up.” Isn’t that right?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: I – I think it’s absolutely right. I think we have to build more prisons in the short term, but the long-term solution is not incarceration, it is prevention. But we have to raise kids with the value systems in place so that they can exercise self-control.
BILL MOYERS: How are you going to teach what you want to teach to these kids who grow up in impoverished homes with a single mother in a neighborhood where crime is rampant?
DONYA WITHERSPOON: Yeah.
AMON RASHIDI: Every thug, every person that we label as foolish, has come through the public school system. Deal with understanding. The teachers that I deal with particularly, as I go across the country – 85 percent of the teachers in the public school system are white females who don’t have the foggiest idea or understanding or how to deal with that young black male, to deal with that young Hispanic student. Because they haven’t been taught. That deals an injustice with that teacher and an injustice to the youth.
DONYA WITHERSPOON: I – I love to listen to people talk about schoolteachers, because I stood in classroom after classroom after classroom, year after year, facing those students, and – people always have all these expectations for teachers, and who do teachers work for? They work for politicians. They work for an elected school board that does the same thing that Congress does, the same thing that the President does, the same thing the governor does, and that is pander for votes.
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: I’m concerned that we expect the schools to substitute for the family. If kids don’t – if they’re not taught values early in their lives, 1 by the time they get to school it may be too late. Now, I think the school needs to be more sensitive to the problem and reinforce what is learned at home, but I think it has to start at home.
BILL MOYERS: Until we resolve some of these long-range strategies, until we can get agreement on and – and solutions to some of the problems we’re talking about, it’s the cop on the beat who’s out there on the front lines day in and day out, dealing with the immediate consequences of the breakdown of – of civil order. So let’s take a look now at producer Terry Fitzpatrick’s profile of a Dallas police sergeant, one of your men, who deals daily, especially nightly, with crime in this city.
SGT. RICK TERRONES: Where’s it at?
SGT. RICK TERRONES: Just charge this guy with assault, okay? And we’ll turn the weapon in as evidence. Let them come pick it up and everything. If you take this one you’ve got to run him down to [unintelligible] as soon as you get to jail.
SGT. RICK TERRONES: We can’t solve everybody’s problems. And yet you’re asked to. I mean, they want us to be their parents now, the parents of the children on the streets. That’s the way I perceive it.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Sergeant Rick Terrones is an eight-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department. He works the southwest section of town, one of the most violent parts of the city.
RADIO DISPATCHER: Go to 6th and 34th, seems to be a robbery of an individual at 8101 South Polk
SGT. RICK TERRONES: A radio patrol officer is just about married to the radio. He’s dispatched to those calls right and left, just has very little time to do any – any concentrated work or get to the know the people in his area. There was a time before the call load became so great that he was capable of controlling things, but once the call load got so great and officers were going from call to call, we’ve lost track of that. See if you guys with the whores are working over there at 12th Street, do something about it [unintelligible].
Just throw one of them in jail or do something with it.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Terrones heads a small hand-picked unit that does not answer radio calls. Unlike the overworked patrol officers, this group is able to concentrate on neighborhood trouble spots.
3rd POLICE OFFICER: It’s been a dope house since three, four years that I can remember. Used to run speed over there, now they’re into coke.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: Tonight they’re planning to raid suspected crack houses.
4th POLICE OFFICER: Police!
TERRY FITZPATRICK: This vacant house has been used by drug dealers and police routinely raid it to keep the dealers away. Terrones never knows what he’ll find inside.
3rd POLICE OFFICER: In here.
TERRY FITZPATRICK: The drug dealers even build bullet-proof vestibules for protection.
4th POLICE OFFICER: Put padlocks in here. Identify their customers through the hole, and they could either sell the dope or shoot through this hole. If – if you were a police officer and you kicked in this back door, you’d find yourself in a hole that you couldn’t get out of, and they could basically do whatever they wanted to to you.
SGT. RICK TERRONES: I believe there was a time even people who were breaking the law wouldn’t attack a police officer, but nowadays I don’t think it means much to them.
No one’s happening here, just remnants of the last time they were out here. Sometimes I think we’re just a – a victim of our own Constitution. You know, we have a lot of freedoms here, and we don’t understand sometimes the limits we need to put on it. And gun – guns are readily available. Now, I personally don’t believe in restricting them. But they seem to do harm to people. Crack. Handgun. Some more crack by here.
She’s – the driver’s already under arrest, she was high as a kite.
BILL MOYERS: The Greater Dallas Community Relations Commission serves as a kind of watchdog of the police, and Elizabeth Flores-Velazquez is Executive Director of this citizens’ organization. I’d like to ask you, what has to happen in order for more citizens, as our other guests have called for, cooperate with the police as the Chief would like to seem them do?
ELIZABETH FLORES-VELASQUEZ, Dallas Community Relations Commission: Right. Well, first we have to eliminate that fear and that mistrust that exists between the community and the police, and especially that fear and mistrust that exist in communities of color, where much of this violence is taking place. And how do we do that? We do that, first of all, by having a police force that reflects the ethnic diversity of the community that it’s serving.
BILL MOYERS: Second?
ELIZABETH FLORES-VAZQUEZ: Second is that we have to have cultural awareness training in the police academy.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean? What-
ELIZABETH FLORES-VAZQUEZ: We’re talking about working with police officers and talking to them about the history and the experiences of the communities that they’re serving. The-
BILL MOYERS: Okay, why would that make a difference? Give me an example.
ELIZABETH FLORES-VAZQUEZ: Well-
BILL MOYERS: One example.
ELIZABETH FLORES-VAZQUEZ: Okay, an example is a police officer working in an Asian community where you have recent arrivals, where the experience of those Asian refugees is one of extreme fear of police officers, so that when a police officer coming down the street comes across an Asian refugee, perhaps the first reaction of that Asian refugee is going to be to turn around and run away. Well, to an officer-
BILL MOYERS: Immediately becoming a suspect. Suspect.
ELIZABETH FLORES-VAZQUEZ: Right. Immediately becoming a suspect, when actually he – he or she didn’t commit any crime, but there’s – but the experience in their – in their native country is one of extreme fear of police.
BILL MOYERS: Good example. Number three.
ELIZABETH FLORES-VAZQUEZ: Number three is that we need to have civilian oversight of police actions when we have abuse or mistreatment of citizens.
BILL MOYERS: Doesn’t that inhibit the police? Doesn’t it make the police fear the citizens who fear them and increase the distance between them?
ELIZABETH FLORES-VAZQUEZ: Police officers, and I’ve had police officers tell me, “I don’t fear a police review board because I have nothing to hide. I’m a good cop.” The good cops aren’t going to fear this kind of civilian oversight.
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: Well, certainly we need to weed out some police officers in Dallas, and I suspect any chief in the country could say the same thing. And so one point Liz made was when the Chief fires somebody and says, “This officer can’t do the job in this police department, and more, he can’t relate to people in the community,” then, you know, I need to be supported. And other chiefs need to be supported. And we’ve had problems with that here in Dallas. Over half of the discharges, police officers who were fired, have been returned to duty with a suspension by the civil service process.
BILL MOYERS: I have heard of at least two incidents in Dallas where African-American merchants had been burglarized, they called the police, the burglar fled. When the police got there, the police thought the African-Americans were the criminals and – and – and killed them. Is that true? Are those stories true?
ELIZABETH FLORES-VAZQUEZ: Well, that’s part of the problem. And…and I think that that’s a weakness in training that Chief Rathburn is trying to address, where you have team teaching, where you have someone from the community, someone who’s specifically trained in this, in cultural diversity issues, teamed up with the police officer.
AMON RASHIDI: When you was talking about African-Americans being shot by the police, in that particular instance, which echoes a great need for cultural awareness, when you come out as a victim and then you become victimized. And that’s based on stereotypical images that’s being perpetuated by the media as a whole. And a lot of youth, when we get to camp, will sit down and tell you about incidents of that situation where they would just go out and they were throwed up against the car or something happened, because they were a perceived suspect. And now a lot of these kids now believe that “I’m a born suspect, irregardless.” So they’ll take a lack-of-hope attitude, which can be destructive toward their own lives.
BILL MOYERS: Now, when I hear people like you talk, I hear so much common sense, and then I watch what the media, we in the media do, and the politicians, that I’m saying there must be two worlds in conflict here. Rob Allyn is a political consultant for Republicans in Texas, and a regular commentator on our public television station KERA here. Mr. Allyn, crime is an easy issue for politicians to talk about without having to finally cope with the problem, right?
ROB ALLYN, Political Consultant: Well, I don’t know if it’s an easy issue for them to talk about. It is the issue that is at number one or number two year in, year out in the last few years, here in Texas and across the country. It’s the issue that’s top of mind to the voters, and therefore politicians can and should address it in a democracy.
BILL MOYERS: How do you advise them to shape their message on crime?
ROB ALLYN: Well, you know, hopefully they do it in a somewhat more constructive fashion thansome of the commercials we saw at the head of this show.
BILL MOYERS: You did not advise Phil Gramm to go with [crosstalk]
ROB ALLYN: No, that was – I think that was some of Roger Ailes’ lesser work, you know, right? I think the politicians should always be advised, “Never put on a hat.” It’s the Mike Dukakis tank helmet rule, you know? You shouldn’t put yourself in a situation that’s artificial, because voters pick up on that. However, I think you can draw a real distinction between that and the Clayton Williams-for-Governor spot we saw, the busting-rocks spot, because there he was espousing an innovative solution, a boot camp-type solution. Not a solution necessarily that everyone agrees with, but it was at least a solution rather than the Mark White body-count spot, where people were walking along saying, “Gee, I – I executed all these guys, so elect them.”
BILL MOYERS: One of the low points in political advertising, right?
ROB ALLYN: Yeah. Yeah, I believe that Saturday Night Live did a – did a parody of – a very well-justified parody of the Texas governor’s race that year, with politicians vying to say how many people they’d executed.
BILL MOYERS: But these ads mostly, including the Willie Horton ads in 1988, they play with the public, don’t they? How do you explain that?
ROB ALLYN: Well, do they play with them? I mean, that issue, take that isï sue there, the death penalty. There is no issue in this country that I know of where politicians are more out of step with the voters. The voters support use of the death penalty, and not just in cases of murder.
BILL MOYERS: In your experience, does the death penalty, which is exceedingly popular down here, deter crime?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: I think it has some deterrent value, but it it’s going to have the maximum deterrent value, it has to be much swifter than it is. Twelve years between the crime and the punishment is unreasonable. And it has to be much more certain than it has been historically.
BILL MOYERS: What about the issue, Mr. Allyn, of gun control in a lot of the ads that we see? Do you personally think, as a citizen, that controlling guns would do any good?
ROB ALLYN: Well, I think it’s impractical, although noble intentioned, to think that we can go pick up 67 million handguns. I do think one thing the NRA says that is true is that – that that would have the effect, the practical effect, of taking it away from the elderly African-American woman who’s cowering in her home in fear, and that’s her only thin line of protection against the criminals.
BILL MOYERS: Is that case – is that right? Is that her protection in your neighborhood?
AMON RASHIDI: My grandmother happens to feel that’s a weapon for protection for her, and there are many others who do. But there are others who disagree.
BILL MOYERS: Donya Witherspoon, what do – what do you think when you see those commercials up there about crime?
DONYA WITHERSPOON: It outrages me. It absolutely outrages me. I also would just like to make a comment to follow up on what you’re discussing, that my mother had a loaded gun in her bedroom the night that she was beaten to death with a hammer.
BILL MOYERS: Ms. Flores-Velazquez, hearing the discussion about guns, do you and here’s a police chief who would like to control guns. And yet even his own mayor won’t give him what he wants.
ELIZABETH FLORES-VAZQUEZ: The – my agency hasn’t taken a position on that. But I personally support such a waiting period as the Chief is talking about. We have to begin limiting, in addition to that, limiting the manufacture and the importation of weapons. How else are we going to decrease the number of weapons that are getting into the hands of our youth? I mean, we have to install metal detectors in schools, we have children killing each other on school playgrounds. How else are we going to tackle that problem unless we increase the waiting period, we limit the manufacture and importation of weapons?
BILL MOYERS: Can we, Rob Allyn, have any kind of intelligent discussion about these issues in a media age when issues and problems as complicated as crime get reduced to visual images and sound bites?
ROB ALLYN: I’m not sure that’s all bad. I mean, it’s – it certainly is better than not talking about them at all. And if people’s attention span for politics and political issues and difficult subjects like this is so limited that that’s the way they prefer information to be delivered to them, I think those can be meaningful. The solution, the boot-camp solution that you saw in that one spot, the busting-rocks solution, is modeled on a very successful program in Georgia, the Shock Incarceration Program, that’s achieved some excellent results. And-
BILL MOYERS: Bill Clinton visited that in the primary down there.
ROB ALLYN: That’s right. And that was a way to get that across in a compelling way.
BILL MOYERS: Let’s bring in some voices from our audience here in Dallas on this very specific issue. What do you as citizens want the politicians to say and do about reducing crime?
1st AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, I would like to see the – are you talking about the politicians to do something?
BILL MOYERS: Yes.
1st AUDIENCE MEMBER: I don’t know that the politicians can do anything for us. I would like to see our communities empower the people to do something for themselves. In our area we have bars in our neighborhood that – goodness. I mean, they’re breaking all kinds of laws. And the laws that we have have no teeth in them. We call and they laugh at us because they do whatever they want, whenever they want. And – but the people in our neighborhoods, they feel helpless. They don’t know what else they can do, so they do nothing.
BILL MOYERS: Would you like to see some of Chief Rathburn’s men on the streets patrolling your neighborhood?
1st AUDIENCE MEMBER: Please. Please. Every day.
BILL MOYERS: What about that?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: There are so many things we need to do, and one thing I – we’re doing right now is we have a Citizens Police Academy in progress for the people from the community. All segments of the community go to the Police Academy, our regular Police Academy, two nights a week, I believe, over a period of eight or 10 weeks, and we’re really trying to teach them how to help themselves and how to help the police officers better patrol their neighborhoods.
ROB ALLYN: It seems to me, in fairness both to the Chief and to the politicians, there’s nothing more dangerous these days than to be an apologist for politicians, but there is not any money left. I mean, there – we’re – every year in Dallas we’re losing our tax base. People are moving out to the suburbs. The property values are declining because of what’s happening in the economy. And there’s no money to do this. We just don’t have the money for additional officers that I know of. The Police Department budget’s the only budget that has grown year to year here in Dallas. They’re cutting the libraries, cutting the parks, all those other infrastructure systems that we need in those neighborhoods to intervene with youth. And there’s just not any money left.
2nd AUDIENCE MEMBER: I think that the biggest problem is, for example, if a third of the operating budget is spent on enforcement, which is very necessary, I think that it behooves us to spend as much, if not more, on programs that will affect the actual causes. We put money into more officers, we put money into more jails instead of sitting down and saying, “What are the causes for these problems and how can we get to the root of them?” Rather than just putting a band-aid on it, locking them up. They’re going to get out again!
3rd AUDIENCE MEMBER: And I’d say something. I’m a former gang member myself. I have my own opinion on what I’ve been hearing around here. It’s just the kind of clothes we wear or the way we talk or the people that we hang around with on the streets. The Gang Unit harasses a lot of us. That’s why we don’t even want – we don’t even want to take the time to communicate with them or get to know them or even stop the violence.
BILL MOYERS: You’ve got the Chief of Police here. What would you ask him for out there?
3rd AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m not trying to get on your bad side or nothing, but – you know, you get a lot of – you give a bad – there’s – I’ve seen a lot of young cops, because I’ve – from the gang unit, I’ve mistaken them for younger guys and try to flirt with them and stuff. And, you know, you give them a badge and a gun and they think that they have a lot of authority, and they use it the wrong way.
4th AUDIENCE MEMBER: That’s right.
5th AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mm-hmm.
BILL MOYERS: What about that, Chief?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: Well, one problem we have in Dallas right now is that we’ve expanded the Police Department over the last four or five years, and we have a very high level of inexperience. We have a lot of young officers who really haven’t learned how to treat – how to deal with people, how to deal with them effectively, how to treat them. And it’s a vulnerable period we’re in. And once you get to five years of experience, you – I think a police officer generally, if he survives that long, learns how to – how to talk to people. And how to leave people feeling good about themselves. And – and we have a – the bulk of our department population has less than five years’ experience. I mean – in fact, over half of the officers in uniform on the street right now have less than three years’ experience.
BILL MOYERS: Now, you want to say something, young lady. Yes.
6th AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m just sitting here getting a little frustrated and a little angry, because during this entire time we’ve been here, not once have we talked about the violence perpetuated against lesbian and gay people. And I – it happens here in Dallas on a very regular basis. We have a state district judge who publicly says that he gives a lighter sentence to someone because they have murdered a gay man. And I think we have a real problem here. We talk about being sensitive to communities, we talk about diversity, accepting all sorts of things, but we have failed to talk about lesbian and gay people, and I’m just really incensed.
BILL MOYERS: Chief Rathburn? Do you feel this is a particular aspect of violence?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: Oh, I have no question about it. And, you know, I think the Dallas Police Department, I think the members or at least leaders in the gay community, gay and lesbian community, would agree, we’re trying to build a relationship with that community as well. They have – there’s a lot of violence, a lot of – you talk – somebody mentioned unreported crime. There’s probably as much unreported crime in the gay and lesbians’ community as anywhere.
BILL MOYERS: Can gay people become police officers?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: Not just yet in – in Dallas. But that’s aó
BILL MOYERS: Why is that?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: Well, there’s a state law that says that homosexual conduct is – is – is against the law, even in the privacy of the home. Now –
BILL MOYERS: You would like to see it repealed?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: I – my feeling is that I don’t care what someone’s sexual orientation is. What I care is – is how they do their job. And I think that’s the only thing we have the right to concern ourselves with when we’re talking about hiring police officers.
BILL MOYERS: Yes, over here.
7th AUDIENCE MEMBER: I like seeing the direction this conversation going more towards root causes. But there are some specific solutions.
BILL MOYERS: Such as? Give me a couple you’d recommend.
7th AUDIENCE MEMBER: Stop wasting resources on the drug war. Keep violent criminals off the streets period. Revoke parole for all violent offenses. If it’s not a violent offense, try to make it more fine-driven, more restitution-driven. And don’t worry about keeping them incarcerated. Save that space for the more dangerous criminals. A lot of the drug problems will be addressed if we reduce the level of violence.
BILL MOYERS: What about this issue of drugs? Have – do you have any estimate or even statistical evidence of how many crimes in Dallas are drug-connected?
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: Every study that’s ever been indicates that somewhere in the range of 50 to 80 percent of the people who are arrested for crimes are user – are drug users. So there’s a very strong relationship. And – and particularly there’s a strong relationship, I think, between the use of crack, cocaine, and violent crime: It tends to make people very violent.
BILL MOYERS: You’re – you’re shaking your head here. Yes, ma’am. Yes, uh-huh.
8th AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m one who’s for legalizing drugs. Now, I’ve been to Amsterdam, I’ve seen what happened there with legalized drugs, you know.
BILL MOYERS: What happened?
8th AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, it’s free. I mean, they don’t have the crime rate we have. Now, they do have a weird city, as far as I’m concerned. But – but they – you know, but they’re comfortable with it. I mean, they live with it. They – they’re among it, and it’s not like they are out there killing somebody or shooting somebody or any of that kind of stuff. They aren’t doing it.
BILL MOYERS: Now, Rob Allyn, no – no politician in Texas is going to win advocating the legalization of drugs.
ROB ALLYN: And deservedly so. I think it’s absurd to say that we should legalize drugs or ease off on the war on drugs and crack down on violent crime. That just doesn’t make sense. The violence, as you heard the Chief say, the violence is coming directly out of drugs, including alcohol.
BILL MOYERS: But we’re losing the war on drugs. Everyone admits that.
DONYA WITHERSPOON: That – that –
ROB ALLYN: But that’s – that doesn’t mean you give it up. That doesn’t mean you give it up. That means you try harder and you-and you fight smarter. I mean, you don’t just give up.
BILL MOYERS: [crossta.lk]
DONYA WITHERSPOON: Drugs
BILL MOYERS: Yes, Donya.
DONYA WITHERSPOON: Drugs aren’t the cause of crime. Drugs are just a symptom of the same thing that the crime is coming from. Happy people, secure people don’t do drugs. And we don’t – we just want to get rid of the drugs, we don’t care what shells we leave out there in our community. If we take away the drugs, they’ll do something else. We can’t say, “People on drugs do crime, therefore it’s the drugs that cause the crime.” It’s the person that’s desperate enough to do drugs that causes the problem in the first place.
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: I think historically our approach in the United States has been to shut off the supply, focus on the supply end of the drug problem. I don’t think – I think if nothing else we’ve proven that approach alone does not work. I think we have to go back to the demand end. I think we have to do more in terms of the DARE-type programs, where we teach kids self-esteem, we help build self-esteem. We teach kids how to resist the peer pressure to use drugs. Then we concentrate on demand reduction in other ways. You know, I’m trying to arrest as many drug buyers as I can. I want people to be afraid to buy drugs in Dallas, not just afraid to sell drugs.
AMON RASHIDI: But but let’s analyze what we consider the war on drugs, okay?
DONYA WITHERSPOON: Right.
AMON RASHIDI: Let’s – let’s look at this war. When we decide to go to war, we generally, in this country, like to win it, right? Now, if I’m engaged in a war, I do not go out and say I’m outgunned and I’m out manned. That’s what we collectively hear from the Police Department and other agencies that say they’re combating this drug problem. This is not a war. Resources are pumped into wars. We’re not pumping resources into anything to deal with the issue, except for apprehension, and not prevention.
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: I think there’s a – there’s an increased level of fear that’s very, very real in Dallas, and I think in most urban areas, and that’s because the murder rate’s going up. That’s because people hear gunfire with great regularity. It’s because people feel helpless to a great extent. And – and that – and people in Dallas are saying, “We want something done about it.” And – and I don’t think the Congress hears that. I don’t think people in Austin hear that. You know, gun control in – even in Texas, 80 percent of the people support more restrictive gun control. Eighty percent. And yet the legislature seems to be going the wrong direction.
BILL MOYERS: What you’re saying is that the opposition to gun control is greater than the desire for crime prevention.
CHIEF BILL RATHBURN: No, what I’m saying is that the 80 percent of the people that support gun control in Texas aren’t the ones that put up the money. It’s the NRA and other organizations that are putting up the money to support the legislative races.
BILL MOYERS: Well, on that note we have to close, because we are out of time. I do want to thank each of you around the table for participating in this discussion, and I’m grateful to all of you in the audience for joining us for our conversation about crime in America. I’m Bill Moyers. I hope you’ll join us next time on Listening To America. We’ll close this broadcast with some familiar words from some familiar voices and some familiar figures.
Pres. JOHN F. KENNEDY: We’ve passed the strongest crime legislation that’s been passed in the history of the United States. A bill – seven bills which are comparatively unknown.
Pres. LYNDON B. JOHNSON: The American people have had enough of rising crime and lawlessness in this country.
Pres. RICHARD M. NIXON: And we are going to restore freedom from fear in America again.
Pres. GERALD R. FORD: It is time to give the streets back to the law-abiding citizens and to put the criminals behind bars.
Pres. JIMMY CARTER: The time has come to declare that crime is un-acceptable in our nation.
Pres. RONALD REAGAN: The time has also come for major reform of our criminal justice statutes.
Pres. GEORGE BUSH: And it is time for a major renewed investment in fighting violent street crime. It saps our strength and hurts our faith in our society and in our future together.
[Screen graphics] The FBI estimates that 25,080 people were murdered in the United States in 1991, up 7% from the previous year.
ANNOUNCER: Recently Du Pont announced that its energy unit would pioneer the use of new double-hulled oil tankers in order to safeguard the environment.
BILL MOYERS: Corporate America tells us they care about the planet, but people at the grass roots tell a different story.
1st EMPLOYEE: Make you a choice, either cancer or unemployment.
ANNOUNCER: [Chevron commercial] Do people need to create places so nature can spread its wings? People do.
2nd EMPLOYEE: But I’m the one that’s got to breathe that stuff at night. I’m the one that’s going to be laying around here going [pants]. I wonder can I get my breath?
3rd EMPLOYEE: We are not going to just stretch out and allow Corporate America to walk on us.
BILL MOYERS: The people versus polluters. Next time on Listening To America.
You can view more about the series Listening To America on this website
This transcript was entered on April 3, 2015.