I decided that serving the community was one of my core values.
Strangely, I felt that there was hope for healing the divisions in my city when I saw what didn't happen after Annie Ray Dixon was killed in the summer of 1992.
Mrs. Dixon was an eighty-four-year-old grandmother, a double amputee, and African-American. A botched drug raid went to the wrong house, and a white deputy busted through Annie's bedroom door. Tragically, his gun went off and killed Mrs. Dixon as she lay in bed. The African-American community in Tyler, Texas, was outraged; the incident had the potential of blowing up the city.
I was about two hundred miles away in Houston when Mrs. Dixon was killed. Some fellow members of a citizens' action group, Tyler Together, phoned me and asked if I could intervene and keep the peace.
Our first stop was the sheriff's office; he was considering limiting the investigation to his internal affairs department. But we convinced him that such a limited approach would only increase the outrage and fuel the rumors of cover-up. He wisely decided to forgo an internal investigation and called in federal investigators instead. Adding to the frustration of the black community, though, the deputy was not indicted for misconduct, and he returned to the streets on active duty.
Then the NAACP called for a march and rally in Tyler to dramatize the racial situation there. Responding, the Ku Klux Klan announced a simultaneous counterdemonstration and filed for a parade permit around the courthouse square. Fans of writer John Grisham will see remarkable similarities in A Time to Kill, which chronicled a fictitious confrontation between the NAACP and the KKK in a Southern town.
But this wasn't fiction. My fear of racial violence ...