I saw Chief David Brown on Saturday night at a fundraiser for the families of the five Dallas officers slain July 7. A fortune was raised, around $500,000, because this is a generous and compassionate city.
There was big money in the room, none bigger than Mark Cuban. A few people snapped selfies with the Mavs owner, who couldn’t avoid the glare. But everyone wanted a photo with Chief Brown - even Cuban, who posted a photo to Instagram with a note that said, “I don’t look up to many people. Chief Brown is someone special. A Legend.”
Brown delivered a great speech that night. He talked about how, when he was in elementary school, a white Jewish classmate invited him over to eat - “a real ’Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ moment.” He talked about bonding with a buddy of a different shade over his grandmother’s chicken and told the predominantly white crowd that if they were serious about ending racism, they’d send their kids to schools where their classmates don’t all look the same.
Later, someone asked me to ask the chief for his grandmother’s recipe. I emailed him about it this week, and asked if he had time for a sit-down.
He responded, “Getting some family time in till after Labor Day.”
Apparently, he’s playing golf in Austin. That’s what the mayor said Thursday when announcing that Brown’s retiring on Oct. 22. We won’t hear from Brown until his news conference Thursday.
For those keeping score, Dallas now needs a new city manager, a new police chief, a new chief financial officer and a new city attorney.
I can’t say I know Brown well. Our relationship extends as far as email back-and-forths, the occasional in-person interview about hiring more cops or a brief nod-and-howdy at City Hall. First time I met him, three months after he was hired in 2010, he wanted to give me the what-for over something I’d edited. But instead of yelling at me, he talked about us being native sons of the city and the responsibility that carried. It was hard not to like him.
I know what other cops and reporters said about him - the good stuff, the bad stuff, the political stuff, the personal stuff. I know the rep - serious or imperious, depending on where you sit. But I can’t say I know the man whom this newspaper used to to describe as “intensely private.”
But I am going to miss the police chief we’ve come to know these last two months - the man who, along with Mayor Mike Rawlings, helped this city mourn five dead officers and kept us from wandering to those grim and destructive places so many other cities have visited in recent months.
I like that guy, so much so I let my son wear a T-shirt that says, “Brown/Rawlings For President ’16,” even though I probably shouldn’t because of church and state, you know? We bought it July 16. It’s already fading and shrinking from repeated washes.
Brown’s been chief for six years, and Rawlings confirmed Thursday the rumors that he was looking for an escape long before the July 7 killings. The expiration date was coming due.
Just months earlier, Brown was being vilified by police associations for proposing moving 600 officers to overnight shifts and task forces to combat a rise in violent crime and the lack of street cops needed to stem the tide. The associations wanted him out; Brown waved it off, and said, “This, too, shall pass.”
Then came July 7 and the days after, when Brown and Rawlings became the 1-2 punch that made Dallas proud. And suddenly no one wanted him to go. And suddenly people who didn’t know the chief’s name proclaimed him a hero.
By the time he finished that 50-minute news conference July 11 - the one where he told protesters to pick up applications, the one where he said people are asking cops to do too much in this country, the one where he told politicians to get guns off the street - he was a national icon.
I was talking to former Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm about the chief Thursday, a few minutes after Brown announced his retirement. She appointed him chief in the spring of 2010. Council members had their favorites; the community had its own ideas. But the decision was Suhm’s alone. And she said Thursday she never regretted the appointment.
“Being police chief is the hardest job in town, and he approached it with fairness and strength and a concern for the community and concern for his officers,” she said. “I saw that. He was always serious, always committed, and he has a passion - about his career, his community, his city. And that’s a value I hold dear.”
Turns out it’s something Dallas and the whole country hold dear, too.
Robert Wilonsky is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News.