A sweeping City Hall corruption probe that has produced federal charges against a dozen black civic and political leaders is renewing suspicions of racism in a city with a long history of combative minority relations.
“It makes Dallas looks bad,” said Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who is black, “because people just have the general sense of the city being unfair to people of color.”
Sixteen people—12 of them black—were named in corruption indictments unsealed this week. Most of them were charged in what the FBI said was a kickback and bribery scheme involving the awarding of contracts to white developers to build affordable housing, mostly in black neighborhoods.
The two-year investigation—and the spectacle of some of Dallas’ most influential black leaders arriving at the federal courthouse to face charges—dealt a blow to a minority community still struggling to find its political footing.
Some blacks said they suspect the case is an attempt to dismantle Dallas’ black political leadership.
Among the blacks indicted are a former City Council member, a former city planner, businessmen, state Rep. Terri Hodge of Dallas, and former Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, who was considered a front-runner for mayor in June but was hurt by the investigation. He was defeated in the first round of elections. Four white developers were also charged.
The scandal threatens to reopen old racial wounds in a city less than 20 years removed from a federal civil rights lawsuit that forced it to revamp its government structure. Before the change, minorities had complained it was too difficult to win seats on the City Council. Four blacks now serve on the 15-member council.
More recently, the 2003 firing of the city’s first black police chief, Terrell Bolton, led protesters to march to City Hall and shut down a City Council meeting.
Watkins said that the perception of racial bias in Dallas is warranted given the history of its criminal justice system. Watkins said those guilty of the crimes should be punished. “But the question becomes, well, ‘Why didn’t you use the same standard for those involved that were there before?”’ he said.
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who is black, said the fact that three-fourths of those indicted are black doesn’t give him reason for pause. “Unfortunately, all the actors who were in a position to make a decision . . . were black,” he said.