Dallas residents call for police chief's resignation, decreased police budget after use of force during protests

Dallas Police tactical officers stand among a cloud of tear gas and smoke after they fired it at protesters during a march against police brutality on May 29. Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

Dallas and North Texas residents called on the Dallas City Council to cut its police department’s budget, stop using tear gas on protestors, lift a citywide curfew and ask for Police Chief U. Renee Hall’s resignation at a specially called meeting Friday.

Those demands came during hours of public comments that follow days of protesting against police brutality and systemic racial inequalities during which Dallas police sparked criticism for their use of violence against demonstrators. While residents gave their names neither the city council speakers nor the livestream spelled them out.

This meeting comes on the heels of a tense Austin City Council meeting where residents called for similar action as their Dallas counterparts. Four Austin City Council members said they lost faith in Austin Police Chief Brian Manley after use of force on protesters in that city.

Within the last week, Dallas police fired tear gas at large crowds of protestors and local media reported officers shot rubber pellets, injuring both a bystander and protesters, including one man who lost his eye.

The police department is also facing backlash from protestors and the public for its handling of Monday night’s peaceful protest. A protestor who called into the meeting said while marching in the street police guided them onto the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, a signature structure that connects downtown to West Dallas. Officers in riot gear blocked off both ends of the bridge with a SWAT truck, shuttles and squad cars — giving protestors no way to exit, according to The Dallas Morning News. This crowd control technique is known as kettling.

More than 600 protestors were charged and arrested. But after initially defending the mass arrests, Hall announced Thursday night that she wouldn’t charge the 674 protestors detained during Monday night’s peaceful protest, The News reported.

“The mayor and council have a binary choice: You either hold DPD accountable right now or you endorse what happened on that bridge,” said one resident during Friday’s city council meeting.

He called for Hall and a number of other members of the police department’s leadership to be fired this week.

“Either hold the police leadership accountable by firing people this week or you'll be held accountable a the polls,” the man said.

Hall also announced an order Thursday night that requires Dallas police to intervene when a fellow officer is using excessive force. On Friday, she joined a group of mostly black officers who marched or knelt in solidarity with protestors. But many people demanded more action from the mayor, police chief and city manager.

Kevin Felder, President of the Dallas NAACP and a former city council member, said Dallas has a decades-long history of police brutality against black people.

Felder urged the council to enhance de-escalation training for police officers; create a watchlist of officers involved in shootings and abuse of authority; and require officers to live in the city they serve. He also joined a number of people nationwide who are calling for the elimination of qualified immunity — a law that protects officers from civil lawsuits unless plaintiffs can show an officer violated a clearly established law or civil right.

Echoing Felder’s concerns, a number of callers asked the council to stop accepting equipment from the U.S. military and National Guard that they say militarizes police. Many also asked that city officials reduce the police department’s funding and divert that money into youth programs and education initiatives.

Zandra Ellis, a counselor with counseling services nonprofit Foundation 45, likened the city government’s relationship with its residents to the cycles of an abusive relationship.

“The way that it goes is we go from tensions to outbursts to reconciliation and then we go into the honeymoon phase,” Ellis said. “I'm tired of the honeymoon phase, we need action because people are hurting.”