In the wake of the recent police-involved deaths in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas, racial tensions in the nation have been unusually high. Last week, the sniper ambush in Dallas left five police officers dead, an echo of the tragic tale of the city’s first African-American police officer, William McDuff.
McDuff was hired as a “special officer” in 1896 to monitor disturbances at an A.M.E. church in the former Stringtown, which is now known as the Deep Ellum section. While the historic hiring might have been a cause for celebration for some, it was largely frowned upon by many of Stringtown’s Black residents.
On Christmas Day that year, McDuff was approached by a pair of Black men he had an earlier confrontation with at the church. The men were still angered by McDuff’s interaction with them. They beat the officer before murdering him in cold blood. Homer Stone and Jim Barclay were given 25 years and 10 years respectively, but McDuff’s death was treated with little fanfare.
Historians note that McDuff is the only Dallas police officer killed in the line of duty that does not have a photograph of him in memoriam at any of the city’s stations.
It would another 50 years before a Black officer would be hired again. The current Dallas police chief, David Brown, who is Black, has instituted some unpopular reforms to encourage community policing, leading to a reduction in excessive force complaints. Dallas once led that nation in officer-involved shootings. After the shootings, Brown offered protestors the chance to make change – by becoming police officers themselves.