updated 10/3/2007 9:07:40 PM ET 2007-10-04T01:07:40

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 look 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 ethnic makeup of those indicted has not gone unnoticed in Dallas, a city of 1.2 million that is nearly 25 percent black and has been beset by racial tensions over the years.

"I refuse to subscribe that this was racially motivated," said Michael Sorrell, president of the city's historically black Paul Quinn College. "But given all the factors, what is the statistical likelihood of producing that ratio?"

FBI: No racial motivations
U.S. Attorney Richard Roper and the FBI strongly denied that the probe was racially motivated. Federal investigators made their case not by setting up a sting operation but by raiding City Hall, removing boxes of documents and following the paper trail.

"I always in my career base my decisions not on race but what the facts and the law show," said Roper, who has not ruled out the possibility of more indictments.

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.

In 2001, a number of white police officers were disciplined for jailing dozens of Hispanic immigrants on trumped-up drug charges.

Watkins became the first black district attorney in Texas after being elected last year. He took over an office where written guidelines on how prosecutors can keep keeping minorities off juries were used as recently as 1980.

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.

Although Dallas more recently has broken the political color barrier with its first black mayor, police chief and district attorney, some say that is deceptive.

"Our progress here is cosmetic," said Rufus Shaw, a black political analyst.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments