Few people understand loss better than David Brown, the Dallas police chief who stood before television cameras Friday morning and said, “We are heartbroken.”
Even before five police officers were killed during a Black Lives Matter protest Thursday and seven other people wounded, Brown had become intimate with loss, pummeled by it, again and again, in his career and personal life.
Before this week, violence had already taken from him a former partner, a brother, a son.
When Brown was named police chief in 2010, he entered the position with a reputation of being an intense and introspective leader, according to a Dallas Morning News profile, that quoted him as telling a friend, “You know, I’m a loner, man.” But if he was a quiet force, his personal pain was very public – and would become even more so after his son who bore his name killed a police officer and another man before being fatally shot more than a dozen times.
At the time, in June 2010, Brown was only seven weeks into his new position as chief and again spoke of heartache, this time in a statement to his own officers.
“The past few days have been very troubling and emotional for all of us,” he told his 3,600-member department, according to an article by The Guardian. “My family has not only lost a son, but a fellow police officer and a private citizen lost their lives at the hands of our son. That hurts so deeply I cannot adequately express the sadness I feel inside my heart.”
The girlfriend of Brown’s son, who was also named David and was 27 years old at the time, had called police earlier that day to say he was having “a psychotic breakdown” and had hit her, according to media reports. Hours later, the younger Brown shot 23-year-old Jeremy McMillian as he drove with his girlfriend and two children in Lancaster, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. When a Lancaster police officer, 37-year-old police officer Craig Shaw, responded to the shooting, the younger Brown shot and killed him, too.
Before that day, Brown’s son had only a minor criminal record, including an arrest involving marijuana.
It was a very public pain for a private man – but not his first. When Brown married Dallas police Sgt. Cedonia Brown in 1996 he had already seen two personal losses.
In August 1988, Brown was working in the physical evidence section when he responded to an officer-involved shooting, according to the Morning News. On the ground at the crime scene, Brown saw a familiar pair of glasses.
They belonged to his former partner, Walter Williams, a 47-year-old father of three who had been Brown’s classmate at the police academy. Brown was with Williams’ children when they learned that their father had died at the hospital.
“When things like that happen, and you’re really close, you don’t believe it for the longest time,” Brown told the Morning News. “I really relate to all of those in-the-line-of-duty deaths [on a] much more personal level … you lose a partner, you just never get over it.”
But the pummeling kept coming.
In 1991, Brown’s younger brother Kelvin Brown was killed by drug dealers. He doesn’t talk much about the loss, but acknowledged that it remains a piece of him.
“I can’t deny that’s a part of who I am,” Brown told the Morning News. “The families of victims, I know what they go through.”