You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

In wake of North Texas police shooting, black lawmakers demand action


Highlights

Black lawmakers demand legislative action on police reform bills.

“I’m not playing the race card; I’m playing the reality card,” says Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

Most police reform bills have failed to gain traction in the Legislature.

Revealing a race-related schism at the Legislature on police reform, members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus on Thursday called for legislative action in the wake of the police killing of Jordan Edwards in North Texas.

Jordan, an unarmed, 15-year-old, African-American, was killed Saturday by a white Balch Springs police officer as Jordan was riding in a vehicle leaving a party.

“There’s not a person here who thinks this would have happened in an Anglo community,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas. “I’m not playing the race card; I’m playing the reality card.”

Among the measures proposed by the African-American lawmakers that they say have largely been ignored by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, none of which have made it to the floor of the Senate or House for a vote are:

• The appointment of a special prosecutor for officer-involved shootings.

• Changing the standards for which the use of lethal force is acceptable.

Reforming the way police arrest and send people to county jails, as part of a suite of changes inspired by the arrest of Sandra Bland, the African-American woman who was found hanged in a Waller County Jail cell three days after a routine traffic stop escalated into a confrontation with a Department of Public Safety trooper and led to her arrest.

Of the measures mentioned at Thursday’s press conference, only West’s Senate Bill 30, which calls for instructions to high school students on how they should communicate with officers during a traffic stop, has passed through a chamber: It won unanimous approval in the Texas Senate; a companion bill has been placed on the House floor calendar for Tuesday. The Senate bill also calls for officers to complete a “civilian interaction training program” involving traffic stops.

West’s bill “is a priority” for the lieutenant governor, Patrick spokesman Alejandro Garcia said.

TEXAS POLITICS DELIVERED EVERY DAY: Sign up for our Texas Politics email

“There is nothing more important at the Legislature than eradicating this disease that’s taking out young black men guilty of nothing more than being black in Texas, in America,” said Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, who teared up at the press conference as she said she thought of one of her grandchildren — also named Jordan.

‘Black lives matter, too’

The black caucus includes 12 members, all but one of whom are Democrats; the state’s three top leaders are white, all of them Republicans.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said leaders at the Capitol “have to get their heads out of the sand” and “get it done.”

Abbott spokesman John Wittman said the governor “supports efforts by the Legislature that seek to improve the relationship between Texas communities and law enforcement, and he looks forward to signing legislation that achieves that goal.”

But even as he has tweeted over the last several days about tornado victims and about a paramedic getting shot while responding to a call in Dallas, Abbott didn’t tweet about the Balch Springs incident. He did provide a statement to some news outlets expressing his sympathy to the Edwards family and calling for “a fair and full investigation into this tragedy.”

At root, suggested black lawmakers on Thursday, is a political choice to defer to law enforcement.

“Yes, blue lives matter, but black lives matter, too,” said West. Noting that Balch Springs police changed their description of the circumstances of the killing after officials reviewed video of it, West said, “Thank God for the body cameras.”

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Lone Star Politics page brings Capitol news to your Facebook feed

Straus said Thursday he was willing to work with lawmakers on “preventing similar tragedies in the future,” but didn’t specify which bills he might push.

“The death of Jordan Edwards was an absolute tragedy, and all of us grieve for Jordan, his family and the community,” Straus said in a statement. “Some very critical questions about Jordan’s death need to be answered fully and transparently. All of us should be deeply concerned about these tragedies and their frequency, and I will work with any of my legislative colleagues who are interested in preventing similar tragedies in the future.”

‘We need action’

The lawmakers — who were joined by the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and by a representative of the NAACP — said they wanted real movement on the bills.

“We need not only thoughts and prayers; we need action,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, who is white and chairs the House Democratic Caucus. “People who look like me don’t have to have the same talks with kids and grandkids” as his colleagues of color, he said.

Among several police killings of unarmed black people across the state in recent years, at least three have occurred in Central Texas:

• In 2013, Larry Jackson Jr. was chased by Austin police Detective Charles Kleinert and fatally shot during a struggle. In 2015, a judge granted the former detective special protective immunity, shielding Kleinert from prosecution.

• In 2014, Bastrop County sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Willis, responding to a domestic disturbance call, shot and killed Yvette Smith, who he believed to have a gun. In 2016, a judge found the former deputy not guilty.

• Last year, Austin police officer Geoffrey Freeman, who is black, fatally shot David Joseph, a naked teenager who was running toward him. A Travis County grand jury declined to indict Freeman.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Senate moves to bar guns from state psychiatric hospitals
Senate moves to bar guns from state psychiatric hospitals

The Texas Senate amended a bill Wednesday to allow the state psychiatric hospitals to ban guns on their premises, including the Austin State Hospital and nine other facilities. The amendment by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, was added to House Bill 435, which seeks to allow volunteer emergency workers to carry licensed handguns while on the job. Changes...
Transgender bathroom issue continues to roil Legislature
Transgender bathroom issue continues to roil Legislature

Determining which bathrooms transgender Texans can legally use continues to roil the Legislature as the session enters its crucial final days. Already the subject of two all-night hearings, passionate protests and numerous news conferences, the transgender bathroom issue made a conspicuous appearance at 1:15 a.m. Wednesday, emphatically capping a 13-hour...
House, Senate disagreement on ‘vouchers’ kills school funding bill
House, Senate disagreement on ‘vouchers’ kills school funding bill

The prospect of Texas public schools getting any additional money over the next two years is gone. The Texas House on Wednesday took yet another overwhelming vote against so-called school choice, which would redirect state money to help students pay for private school tuition. Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said the move killed...
Texas parks projects on hold after snub by Legislature
Texas parks projects on hold after snub by Legislature

New work to address overdue repairs at Texas state parks and efforts to open new parks to the public appear to be on hold after lawmakers at the Capitol have signaled unwillingness to give more money to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “We knew this was going to be a very fiscally constrained session going into it,” agency Executive...
Lawsuit: Austin boy, 10, crushed by driveway security gate
Lawsuit: Austin boy, 10, crushed by driveway security gate

A 10-year-old boy was killed when a driveway security gate crushed his body at his friend’s home in Central Austin, according to a lawsuit that assigns blame to various parties, including the gate’s manufacturer and the homeowner. The boy was a guest at a house at 5500 Shoal Creek Blvd on Feb. 18 when he went into a gap between the gate...
More Stories