Race issues loom over Dallas suburb after police killing

BALCH SPRINGS, Texas — The Dallas suburb where a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager as he left a party has a population that’s just 20 percent white but a police department that’s 80 percent white.

Balch Springs now confronts the same issues of race and law enforcement as Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and other cities that have been thrust into the spotlight because of police killings of African-Americans.

Officer Roy Oliver was fired three days after the Saturday night shooting. But lawyers for 15-year-old Jordan Edwards’ family said Wednesday that the city must answer for more than Oliver, including a racial slur allegedly yelled at one of Edwards’ brothers moments after the shooting. The family also wants the officer to be charged with a crime.

Edwards, his two brothers and two other teenagers were driving away from an unruly house party when the officer opened fire on their vehicle with a rifle. The bullets shattered the front passenger-side window and struck Edwards.

It took a few moments for Edwards’ 16-year-old brother, who was driving, and other passengers to notice that he was slumped over in his seat. His brother pulled over and tried to call for help.

Police ordered him to step out of the car and back away. As he moved, he heard someone call him a racial slur and say he didn’t understand directions, according to family lawyers Jasmine Crockett and Lee Merritt.

“When you have a police force that’s completely the opposite the makeup of the town, I do think it’s a problem,” Crockett said Wednesday in an interview. “I do feel there’s a sense of fear that comes into a lot of officers’ minds, because it’s the fear of the unknown.”

Police Chief Jonathan Haber said in a text message Wednesday that authorities are still reviewing video of the shooting but had not heard any racial slurs so far.

Asked about the department’s racial makeup, spokesman Pedro Gonzalez said Balch Springs was “hindered” by competition from big-city police departments.

“Larger departments offer many other opportunities for advancements where Balch Springs PD is limited in advancement and salaries,” Gonzalez said.