The Dallas City Council last week replaced the Citizens Police Review Board with the Community Police Oversight Board. On the surface, this seems nothing more than meaningless wordplay. Yet underneath, it is a transformative step toward 21st-century policing and public safety.
Accountability is about transparency, not punishment. Oversight is about collaboration, not disempowerment. The oversight board will not diminish Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall's authority over the police department. She has remained steadfast in her duty to protect her officers from legal or administrative jeopardy. By also championing the citizens DPD serves, Hall has shown the courage to usher in a new era of community engagement that eluded her 28 predecessors.
In the aftermath of the vote, many deservedly received praise for their contributions. But one group was critical to this historic success: the citizens of Dallas. Make no mistake, they manifested this.
I was immersed in the intergalactic war unfolding in my novel as my daughter slept, head resting on my thigh. Less than one year ago, she curled up in the window seat with ease. Now her contorted legs dangled over the edge fighting for space and comfort.
The flight attendant's voice boomed from the cabin intercom and yanked me from my literary escape. "Attention passengers, is there a doctor on the plane?" Attempting to remain inconspicuous, my head slowly swiveled to scan the cabin. Hesitant to answer the call, seconds that felt like minutes ticked off as I hoped some other doctor — any doctor — would step up. I had been here before, and I didn't feel like getting hassled on this flight today.
The lack of minority representation in medicine is distressing, especially for African-American men. Statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges show that 542 black males entered medical school in 1978 compared to 515 who entered in 2014. This drop is alarming, considering the increase to nearly 180 schools accepting over 20,000 students annually during the intervening four decades. Despite the increased opportunities, fewer black men are applying to medical school.
Black babies cost less. My wife and I learned this sitting on a worn couch across from two white women explaining the fee schedule for adoptions.
The cost to adopt a newborn black infant was a fraction of that to adopt a white one. At another agency, we were offered a deal on twins — adopt one and get the other at half off. Years before America asked "do black lives matter?" I could tell you: "Not as much."
Children of color are devalued at all stages of life. As an adoptive father, I learned this begins before many take their first breath.
Decision paralysis grips my 7-year-old inspecting the decorative rows of doughnuts. The server eyes her with a patient smile while the weekend mob awaits their turn at the counter. Finally, tapping the glass, she says, "That one please." Cash and goods exchange hands, and we complete our weekly ritual next door at Starbucks.
Days before, in a Starbucks half a continent away, two African-American men were arrested while waiting for a friend. White patrons protested as the police handcuffed and escorted their compliant captives away. The public degradation recorded, their silent resignation bore testimony to the collision of implicit racial bias and systemic racism.
Back here in Dallas, I sit marveling at my daughter's tenacity nibbling the frosted doughnut top bare before attacking the remnant with gleeful mouthfuls. Save one barista and a Dallas police officer, there are no other black faces.
Shortly after midnight on July 5, 2016, I was probably lying peacefully in my bed, sound asleep. Around that time in Baton Rouge, La., Alton Sterling was restrained on the ground with a gun pointed at his head. "I'll kill you, bitch" were among the last words officers directed toward him prior to his death. With race as a flash point, the cycle of violence escalated in Dallas two days later when our police were on the receiving end of an assassin's gun.
In Baton Rouge, an opaque accountability process and inexplicable outcome have allowed another group of officers to walk free inside a recurring nightmare that fuels anger, frustration and public distrust of law enforcement. However, I believe Dallas is uniquely positioned to serve as a model to the nation and change this narrative by turning this angst into positive action.
As the newly appointed chairman of the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board, I have agreed to help bridge the chasm of distrust between the Dallas Police Department and the citizens it serves. In working with DPD leadership, City Hall and community leaders, I see that the commitment to progress is undeniable. Now, the recently announced outcome of Alton Sterling's death serves as an unwelcome reminder for why our task is urgent.
As a trauma surgeon with experience treating devastating firearm injuries, I cannot comprehend why Congress has doubled down on a decades-old law restricting funding for research on gun violence. Lawmakers reaffirmed their dereliction in 2016 when they ignored the collective voice of 141 medical organizations who sent a letter urging repeal of the 1996 Dickey Amendment because of its "dramatic chilling effect" on research into an issue of increasing importance.
It is past time to repeal the Dickey Amendment so policymakers can make informed decisions about the effects of gun violence on public health.
Would lawmakers act if they understood my experience of working to save a gunshot victim by diving elbows-deep into his open abdomen while his blood cascaded onto the floor?
Would lawmakers finally act if they regularly had to comfort yet another anguished family after informing them of the premature death of a loved one?
If exposed to this reality, would Congress perform its duty to promote and protect public health? Would you, as a citizen, demand more?
Until the recent violence in my home state of Virginia, I was indifferent about the Confederate monuments adorning the city of Dallas. As an African-American man coming of age in the '80s, I chose to ignore these emblems of an ignominious history. They've had no power over me -- or so I thought.
Charlottesville is a prescient warning that my passiveness is indefensible. Confederate monuments are powerful symbols cloaked in antebellum familial pride, honor and heritage. Their very presence, however, conditions silence and emboldens ideologies that stain the pages of America's history. The city of Dallas must dispense with these disingenuous arguments and remove these monuments quietly; absent the valiant glory of battle their form depicts.
My great-grandfather served in the Pacific Theater in World War II. In exchange for his honored service to our great nation, he lived the remainder of his life subjugated in the Jim Crow South. No statues, parks, schools or streets will ever bear his name. This is not surprising since he was relegated to the segregated units of the U.S. Army with no opportunity to ascend to a command rank. Still, humility comes easy when you emerge on the right side of history fighting for the cause of liberation and not enslavement.
"People find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger." — James Baldwin
July 7, 2016, painfully reshaped my existence. That night we treated seven gunshot victims at Parkland Hospital. All were police officers; three were wounded fatally. Within minutes, lives were destroyed and families upended — the tragic, indirect result when we refuse to reckon with racism's endemic place in our society.
It happened the day after Philando Castile was shot dead in the driver's seat of his car in Minnesota, and two days after Alton Sterling was shot dead while restrained on the ground in Baton Rouge, La.. Their graphic deaths, captured on video, catalyzed a peaceful rally downtown that was violently disrupted by the shooting.
The aftermath challenged my self-identity and my perceived duty to humanity. Social justice was my impetus for a career in medicine. Now, by fate, that mission includes speaking out about some of the darkest ills of our society.
The movement fueling #ThisIsOurLane may fail Black Americans who endure a significant burden of gun violence. Responding to a tweet from the National Rifle Association (NRA) demanding we “stay in [our] lane” the medical community rose to the challenge. A new hashtag gained traction, thousands signed an open letter, and many shared graphic photos and stories from treating victims of gun violence.
My family enjoyed the 4th of July with a patriotic celebration of flags, sparklers, and fireworks. But for me, the seeds of patriotism sprouted in a far corner of South Carolina on my father’s family farm. As a preschooler, I chased chickens that clucked and ran and flapped. I slurped cheeks full of fresh watermelon picked from the field. America. The only thing missing was apple pie.
My ancestors worked that farm as slaves when it was part of a larger plantation. The land was ceded to my great-great-great-grandfather - a gift from his former master. Today my cousins grow soybeans, but for generations escaping the farm was a wartime ritual for the men.
I had the honor of delivering the commencement address to the Loyola Stritch School of Medicine Class of 2018. Being in the presence of 165 exuberant new medical doctors was inspiring, and a reminder of how fortunate I am to serve in this profession.
With a nod to St. Ignatius of Loyola, my address centered on three themes for the new MDs:
Humanity - Guard it. It is one of the greatest gifts you have.
Authenticity - Do not trade it for acceptance.
Vulnerability - It is a source of power, not weakness.
I received the following response to my recent op-ed published in the Dallas Morning News:
“She’d be better served if you put as much energy into teaching her that with hard work, and education – she can do anything she wants to do in life. Let her dream her dreams instead of burdening her with your hangups.”
Initially, I dismissed this comment, convinced there was no way this individual actually read the piece. But for several days the phrase “with hard work and education” stuck with me. Eventually, I chose to seize this opportunity and elaborate on my point about systemic racism.
The American Dream
Of course I understand the importance of hard work and education. I graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, went to medical school, trained at Harvard and Emory, and taught at one of the largest medical centers in the country. I understand, as well as anyone, the value of hard work and education. It is an ethos I continuously work to instill in my daughter.
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’m not feeling Black History Month this year. The annual observance, meant to ensure the contributions of African-Americans are not forgotten, was founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as Negro History Week. It often relies on a curated selection of African-American greats to celebrate what is essentially American history. However, the richness of Black history, its hardships and triumphs, is interwoven into American history and attempts to separate the two must end.