Tuesday evening’s community gathering called by the Galveston Police Department allowed residents a direct line of communication with Police Chief Vernon Hale, just a mere 24 hours following the worldwide, warp-speed viral viewing of photographs showing horse-mounted Galveston police officers transporting Donald Neely via a roped tether, as he walked in handcuffs.
Hale wasted no time in addressing the photographs. He spoke specifically to what would be his review of both officers by explaining his behavior-based rubric factored as mistake, missteps or misconduct. A mostly African American audience showed a palpable anger at the photographs, and their retold imagery of slavery, Jim Crow and inhumanity.
Hale moved directly to a Q&A session with all residents. He spoke in a manner that was calm, courteous and professional. He never once raised his voice, nor did he ever speak with an inflection and tone that could remotely be considered disrespectful of any person.
Hale’s demeanor and exceptional calmness allowed all persons to make full expression and give commentary, regardless of whether a question was posed.
Amid calls for strong disciplinary action for both officers, Hale informed the audience of specific departmental policy. He explained officer training related to diversity, conflict resolution and mental health. He stated that his investigation wasn’t complete. He intimated the need for all residents to be informed of a police officer’s responsibility.
As he fielded commentary and questions, along with personal stories of previous adverse interactions many residents had with Galveston police officers, he renewed his commitment in sharing that he would be responsible for officer conduct and behavior toward citizenship.
Thirty minutes into his presentation, the family of Donald Neely, along with Benjamin Crump, famed attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin, entered the gathering at Old Central. Crump and Houston-based attorney Melissa Morris spoke passionately on behalf of the Neely family, leaving the audience to have the courage to call for specific actions against the two officers.
Hale was unrelenting in his professionalism, thanking both attorneys for being present, along with the Neely family. He gave a promise to meet with them at a future date in a more private setting to seek resolution to this specific event.
Hale defines what leadership is. His focus was based on service to the community of Galveston. His empathy was real. He never dodged one question. When he didn’t know the full answer, he stated so using full sentences.
As we move forward from the awful imagery of the photographs, I have complete confidence in Hale’s ability to assess what’s factual. I’ve always respected Hale since he arrived in Galveston. I can think of no other civic leader with the courage to call such a meeting given the gut-wrenching societal complexities related to the photographs. But Hale did. He stood, alone, with his back straight. He listened. He explained. He called for action. He began the process of healing. Having this form of leader is just what we need to move forward as a community.