Dallas may think its reputation will never recover, after it hosted President Kennedy, Kennedy’s entourage, and Kennedy’s assassins fifty years ago. Given who carried out the murder, though, one shouldn’t blame Dallas for the crime. Cities don’t commit murders; people do. True, one notes virulent anti-Kennedy sentiments in central Texas at the time, but people who hate reside everywhere, and politicians, especially presidents, always attract their share of them. Virtually no one in Dallas wanted to see Kennedy killed. The people who planned and carried out his murder did not come from there.
Dallas law enforcement, however, bears a big load of responsibility for trying to conceal the truth about who murdered Kennedy, and about who murdered one of its own policemen, J. D. Tippit. In the days after November 22, Dallas police and prosecutors collaborated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to hide the truth. Later, Dallas police realized the FBI consistently blamed them for various investigatory failures. By then it was too late: Dallas police couldn’t get right with anyone. The Warren Commission published its report, to document the version of events cooked up ten months earlier among the FBI, Dallas law enforcement, and other interested parties. For the most part, the deception worked.
If Dallas wanted to redeem its reputation, it should not have launched the Dallas Love Project. This idea amounts to kindergarten politics – adults commission kindergartners to broadcast sentimental sayings – sentiments with a barely disguised political motive – to make everyone feel better about their city. The plan, already underway, is to line Kennedy’s motorcade route with posters about love. Honestly. Is that how we recall our distinguished, executed leader in our struggling republic? What a saccharine, misplaced idea, given what happened in Dealey Plaza, near Houston and Elm. Underneath the watercolors, the construction paper, the Elmer’s glue and the elementary school sweetness, the wound inflicted on all of us fifty years ago still works its harm.
If Dallas aims to repair its reputation five decades on, city leaders ought to:
- Do what they can, with local resources and fifty years of history behind them, to uncover the truth about why Kennedy died.
- Unearth the complicity of Dallas police and prosecutors in helping the feds lie about who committed the crime.
- Insist that the feds come clean, too.
- Lead the rest of the country to reconsider the evidence, to reject lies and accept the honest truth, and to accept what the truth implies.
- Organize itself to resist federal interference with its activities, and to accept help for this resistance from other cities and states.
The people of Dallas, and of Texas, have the guts, resources and motivation to undertake a truth-telling project of this magnitude. The crime took place in Texas, and local knowledge counts for a lot. Most of all, Texas has the required spirit of independence. It has the rough edges and Sam Houston-like courage to gore Washington’s detestable oxen, one after another. The CIA, the FBI, the Warren Commission, the White House, the mainstream press, and any other federal body or federal affiliate involved in planning, executing, or covering up the assassination should come under scrutiny, to the extent that people in Dallas are able to press those questions.
Locally, the coming-clean investigation can start by endorsing the doctors at Parkland hospital, by backing up what they said about Kennedy’s wounds. It can move from that significant step to the obvious: that Jack Ruby’s killing of Lee Oswald shows police incompetence, or police complicity in the contract killing. Dallas’s inquiry should leave no embarrassing omission untouched. In particular, it should reexamine everything that happened both before and after the president’s bloody Lincoln arrived at Parkland hospital’s emergency entrance.
Texas has a political tradition of not giving a damn what the feds say. If the Lone Star State – Dallas especially – were to live up to that tradition now, during this season of remembrance, it could take a healing and even heroic step. The country would respond to Dallas’s leadership in this instance.
Instead, if city leaders choose to line Kennedy’s motorcade route with bright paintings and happy sayings about love, we may as well finish our walk down Main Street with a trip to the Sixth Floor Museum, in the old Texas Schoolbook Depository. In that museum, you see and hear a story that brings shame to the city. In that museum, you see – in pictures and words – the lies that Dallas’s authorities helped create.