A Letter from Texas
"Fascism in Texas is no longer creeping. It is up and running with Olympian legs."
Down along Highway 90 where the pavement begins to unspool on its long trans-continental reach westward, a special interest group was planning its annual August fundraiser in Hondo, Texas. No members of the Medina Area Friends of the NRA, you may be assured, are likely to ever make their livings as sensitivity and awareness trainers, though. The organization had set their event for Hondo at the Medina County Fair Hall, which is located just 40 miles east of Uvalde. There are 1100 Friends of the NRA groups around the country, and they guarantee the funds they raise go to “local, state, and national sports shooting programs.” Attendees at the Hondo bash who were willing to buy a $400 ticket and a table for 8 were eligible for the raffle to win an AR-15.
The gun that is coming for us all.
And the gun that had obliterated the lives of 19 school children and two teachers just two months previously was being held up in front of families still lost in their grief. Uvalde parents of the victims showed up at a Hondo City Council meeting and asked how the town was able to sanction the event in the wake of the massacre just down the road. They sat in the front row of the council chambers, holding framed pictures of their deceased children, and failing to hold back their tears caused by a still incomprehensible loss. There are 8000 people living in Hondo and apparently not one of them thought to suggest that raffling off an AR-15 might be viewed as a tad insensitive by their neighbors in Uvalde, which prompted the bereaved families to drive over to speak at a Hondo City Council meeting.
Jazmin Cazares, whose sister was killed in the Robb Elementary slaughter, was astonished the five member Hondo city council could even consider letting the event continue.
“It is a slap in the face to all of Uvalde,” she said, standing at a microphone. “Especially the ones that lost a loved one, some of us being here today. What's an even harder slap in the face is the AR-15 you get if you donate $5,000 to the NRA," she said. "What you guys decide to do next with this NRA meeting either proves me right or proves me wrong about how I feel about Hondo."
The NRA support group has been holding the fund raiser for more than a decade, and one witness said they had been planning for the past 11 months. The organization’s members told the council they had no right to revoke the contract with the group.
"There is no reason for you all to sit up here and vote on it. This is still America, isn't it?" a male member of the gun club told council members. "I don't even understand why we are having this conversation, guys. Guns aren't going away."
Before he could finish making his case, the man, identified only as Hank C. on the witness list, was interrupted by Angel Garza, whose daughter died in the Uvalde massacre.
"You have no fucking clue,” Garza said. “You have no right to tell us how to feel. You have no right to tell us how to feel. I am stepping out. I am walking out. My daughter died still calling me Daddy; she wasn't even old enough to get to the stage to call me Dad."
Although they didn’t have the courage to take the vote in public, Uvalde’s city council went into executive session behind closed doors and voted 4-1 to revoke the contract for the NRA fundraiser on city property.
But a legal fight is probably next.
Texans are often gun crazy enough to not realize their lust for weaponry might be offensive in certain environments, especially among those burdened with a loss of life. The relatively pervasive attitude probably has much to do with why the governor of this state has done precisely nothing to prevent another Uvalde. After the El Paso massacre, Greg Abbott convened a Texas Safety Commission, which was comprised mostly of lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and business leaders, and, oh, they had a lively discussion about what to do to make certain there’d not be another incident like the one that cost 22 lives in El Paso.
But they did nothing.
Even gun guy Greg sounded like he might take some action. He seemed stunned by the fact that barely a week after El Paso 8 more people were mowed down in a shooting in the Permian Basin of West Texas. "The levers that are available to the executive branch agencies and to the governor's office are almost unlimited in our ability to take action swiftly," the governor said.
And he still refuses to use them.
This being Texas, of course, even an outlander from New England or the Midwest can figure out what happened. Abbott held multiple “round tables” to talk about the problem of guns, but they acted only as political “beards” to make it look like action was imminent, and it was. In the first legislative session after the El Paso horror at Walmart, the Republican-dominated body passed a new law called “Constitutional Carry.” The provisions of the measure were that there were no provisions. Go get your gun. No license. No training. No background checks. God gave ya the right and we are codifying it into law.
Duplicitousness is Greg Abbott’s predominant personality characteristic and seems to manifest every time he is cornered by reality. While he promises to “make sure we do everything we can to be certain nothing like this ever happens again,” Abbott instead names people to committees and panels and roundtables that he knows will resist gun control. Looking like you are going to do something is politically useful to fend off those who demand you actually do something.
Abbott’s latest duplicitous act is, unsurprisingly, related to Uvalde. The governor is covering up the failure of law enforcement, specifically the Texas Department of Public Safety, to take action and stop the Uvalde shooter. Freedom of information requests from news media across the state, authorized by the Texas Public Information Act, are being denied by the DPS, undoubtedly because the state’s law enforcement agency is concerned about what they might show. The bodycam video is likely to reveal a mass demonstration of rank cowardice that lets other shooters know the DPS is unlikely to take the risk of putting them down.
Because the DPS has been stonewalling reporters, a coalition of Texas and national media outlets have filed a lawsuit asking a court to order the records released. The DPS has said the information cannot be made public because there is an ongoing investigation, which is not true. No state, local, or federal agency is conducting any type of scrutiny of the incident because the culprit was, eventually, killed, and the only open question remaining is related to the lack of performance by the 376 law officers present, and in repose, as a madman destroyed children. Journalists have requested bodycam and other footage, emails, 911 and all emergency communications, call logs, forensic and ballistic records, interview notes, and a list of the DPS personnel who responded to the mass shooting.
The head of the Texas DPS, Abbott appointee Steven McCraw, authorized the agency to ask the state attorney general to stop the release of bodycam video and other data related to state police performance. The letter to Ken Paxton, holding office for his seventh year with un-prosecuted indictments over his head, was easily interpreted as an attempt to cover up law officer incompetence.
“Revealing the marked records,” the letter stated, “would provide criminals with invaluable information concerning Department techniques used to investigate and detect activities of suspected criminal elements; how information is assessed and analyzed; how information is shared among partner law enforcement agencies and the lessons learned from the analysis of prior criminal activities. Knowing the intelligence and response capabilities of Department personnel and where those employees focus their attention will compromise law enforcement purposes by enabling criminals to anticipate weakness in law enforcement procedures and alter their methods of operation in order to avoid detection and apprehension.”
The funny part of that paragraph is “knowing the intelligence and response capabilities of the department.” Aren’t those widely known after Uvalde? They apparently don’t exist, so what’s the risk of sharing the bodycam video of nothing happening? If there were any capabilities, they certainly weren’t deployed. There were 91 Texas DPS troopers there that sad day and not a one of them did a damned thing.
But back to our governor, who cynically went on TV in Houston and said he wants the DPS and all law enforcement agencies to release their videos and communications. When he was asked when that would be, he said, “as soon as possible,” which apparently is a long time from now, if ever. What Abbott didn’t say is that he has the authority to order the release by DPS, but he has simply failed to do so. He is waiting for the attorney general to give him political cover with a legal opinion that the video is not required to be made public, which is exactly what will happen.
The fascism in Texas is no longer creeping. It is up and running with Olympian legs.
Abbott’s authoritarianism and arrogance regarding the public he is supposed to serve is profoundly disturbing and must be ended by voters in November. He just appointed an indicted Austin police officer to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCLE), the agency that sets training and licensing standards for police. Justin Berry was working for APD when protests broke out in the capitol city regarding the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He still faces two counts of aggravated assault by a public servant. Austin police were armed with rifles described as using “less lethal” rounds, which seriously wounded a few protestors and resulted in a $10 million settlement by the city for two injured men. Does “less lethal” mean they kill you with slightly reduced pain?
Maybe the indicted Austin cop can get Greg Abbott to ask the indicted attorney general to issue an opinion that being on the TCLE gives him a shield from prosecution. Worth inquiring. Greg has done stupider things and continues to do them, even though many are deadly. Two Texas rights groups, The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, and the Texas Civil Rights Group have presented data to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office that indicates police chases, which are a consequence of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, have resulted in 30 deaths. The group says five of the dead were bystanders not involved in the pursuits, and they are asking the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation of civil rights violations.
There is no question that lives have been jeopardized by DPS vehicle pursuits. The agency reported in December that it had been involved in more than 1000 car chases in border communities. How does such a thing happen? Abbott’s formulation for securing the border is to flood the region with DPS officers, who are supposed to look for migrants trespassing on private property. Nothing more is legal under the state’s jurisdiction. Instead, officers resort to racial profiling, and anyone who looks Hispanic is subject to being stopped without any real probable cause. An investigation by KRGV-TV in Weslaco showed that minor traffic citations in nearby Starr County were up by about 1000 percent year over year during a January to June period. Most of the stops were for having stickers on a vehicle’s windshield.
The station quoted Rio Grande City resident Tomas Martinez who said he had been stopped six times in a few months and that he is struggling to pay his tickets because he needs to get his car repaired and cannot afford that work and the fines. Martinez said there are so many law officers in the county that many residents stopped going out because they were afraid of getting stopped.
“They stop us for absolutely no reason,” he said. “They’ll tell you that they’re stopping you to check on you. And that’s how they’ll get people, some without licenses.”
And some of those try to get away, which prompts deadly chases that end with people dead over issues like window stickers on cars.
Tarleton State University in Stephenville in July issued a report on DPS behavior along the border. The data was generated by a study conducted by the school’s Institute for Predictive Analytics in Criminal Justice, and, shocking absolutely no one, showed evidence state troopers assigned to the border by Governor Abbott were more likely to stop Hispanics than whites. They also faced increased probability of being searched with a rate of 5.4 percent to 4.1 for whites. The searches of Hispanics were less likely to find contraband than those conducted on whites. Only 28.5 percent of Hispanic searches led to contraband compared to 39.6 percent of whites. The conclusion of the research, which I’d describe as a tenacious grasp at the obvious, is that “these findings indicate the possibility that Texas DPS may be racially profiling Hispanics.”
When you are building an authoritarian state, though, you ignore whatever you want because avoiding accountability is what keeps you in power. Greg Abbott continues to do as he pleases by pretending that he is protecting the border, for example, even as he bitches about the flow of illegal immigrants. He insists Texas is doing the federal government’s job but seems to acknowledge we aren’t doing it very well since he keeps complaining about the influx of border crossers and continues to run busloads of them up to Washington, D.C. and now New York City. His policies appear to be less effective than the ones he claims are being implemented by President Biden, but that does not stop Abbott from using economically and politically desperate and hungry people for political pawns.
The irony, which escapes an emotionally and mentally blocked soul like Abbott’s, is that by busing migrants north it becomes much easier for them to melt into the population and avoid legal processes. Most of them apprehended are assigned jurisdictions and court dates for their cases near the border before they can board the Abbott Express northbound. There are dramatically reduced odds they will ever be able to return, if only because of transportation costs. Regardless, he continues to waste Texas taxpayer dollars renting buses and filling their gas tanks, which is a minor expenditure when compared to the $4 billion dollar cost of Operation Lone Star.
The border has been entirely militarized with National Guard troops, DPS officers, military vehicles, shipping crates, and razor wire. More innocent people will die and have their human rights violated as they journey to the Texas frontier seeking political asylum. Abbott builds tiny pieces of his border wall and then rolls up in front of them to spew bile about immigrants and diminish them to non-humans. The entire border has become nothing more than a photo op for his steaming ambitions to be president. Every other function of the state government is being marginalized to serve his border fantasia.
A report by the Texas Tribune revealed the state’s juvenile prison system is nearing “total collapse.” Turnover rates are said to be 70 percent for overworked and underpaid staff and 600 youth rarely can get out of their cells to use the bathroom or take showers. They describe having to use water bottles for toilets. They are sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor and locked in cells for up to 23 hours a day. Many are trying to hurt themselves and the website said nearly half of the youth incarcerated have been on suicide watch this year. Scandals involving violence and sexual abuse and a pattern of mistreatment have prompted a federal investigation but no improvements to operations under Abbott or his GOP legislature.
Instead, he sends billions down the toilet at the border. In fact, the Abbott administration is already under a federal investigation for playing a shell game with federal Covid relief funds to pay for his charade on the Rio Grande. The Inspector General of the U.S. Treasury Department is examining the use of a billion dollars, provided to Texas as part of the CARES Act to mitigate health problems caused by Covid. Instead, according to a report in the Washington Post, Abbott played a funding shell game with the state health agency and ordered the federal allocation diverted to Operation Lone Star. Money intended by congress to help people and communities deal with the complications of Covid was sent to the border to endanger more lives of National Guard troops, victims of police chases, immigrants, and anyone else who gets in the way of the governor’s ambitions.