DALLAS — On a rainy Saturday morning, nearly 5,000 people attended an open air rally at Dallas City Hall Plaza to denounce the epidemic of domestic violence.
"This is amazing that the men of Dallas are this excited about something that's not about sports," said Mayor Mike Rawlings, who spearheaded the Dallas Men Against Abuse event in the wake of disturbing crime figures.
"You can call a guy who hits a woman a lot of things, but you can't call him a man," the mayor said.
Dallas police Chief David Brown said the issue has emerged as his department's "highest priority."
"Each year we have over 13,000 domestic abuse cases; 4,000 warrants need to be served; currently outstanding we have about 400 people we're looking for to bring to justice," Brown said. "One message we have to abusers: You can run, but you can't hide."
WFAA sports anchor Dale Hansen delivered an emotional and haunting story from his youth. When he was seven years old, Hansen said he saw his mother's nose broken by a punch from his father.
"My dad was the strongest man," Hansen said. "Never has such a big man looked so small in the eyes of a little boy."
- WATCH: Dale Hansen's remarks
Dallas Cowboys legends Emmitt Smith and Roger Staubach appeared on stage to urge men to act appropriately.
"You can always defuse a situation, but you can never go back and recover from it," Smith advised. "If you are in a situation that you feel you need to get away, then get away."
"It's amazing that we even have to have this rally," Staubach added, relating a story about a friend who bore witness to domestic violence in his home. Staubach urged women who are victims (or who fear they may become victims) to seek assistance from agencies that are standing by to help.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant made a surprise appearance. In brief comments, Bryant apologized for his role in a domestic altercation in July. He was arrested for allegedly hitting his mother, but no charges were filed.
"I made a mistake, and I just want everyone to know it's not good to hit women," Bryant said.
Those words mean a lot to women like Jennifer Smith, who survived after her husband shot her in the head more than 16 years ago.
"If he hits you one time, it should be over," she said. "Never accept 'I'm sorry.'"
Lara Gaither, outreach director for the Genesis Women's Shelter in Dallas, said Chief Brown has told Genesis officials that over the last year or two, overall crime has dropped in Dallas. The exception is cases of domestic abuse.
"We can't end domestic violence until men are part of the solution," Gaither said before the rally.
Mayor Rawlings said his next priority is raising money for shelters and working with faith-based groups on counseling; also working with legislators on a "three strikes" law for serial abusers.
The rally ended with an oath for all men: That they treat women with respect... not rage.
Associated Press writer David Warren contributed to this report.