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Gutted’ Bill Represents Problem in Legislative Priorities – Placing Police over Citizen Rights, Justice

You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” Medgar Evers

AUSTIN- It is a tale of two pieces of key legislation headed for Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s desk that tells a tale of two stories and defines whose lives really matter.

Legislation making attacking police officers and judges a hate crime is headed for Governor Abbott’s desk with great hoopla, while a gutted, watered down and neutralized version of the Sandra Bland Bill designed to protect citizens and rights limps toward approval.

The Sandra Bland Bill Fails Minorities and Still Gives Some Police Free Ticket to “Bully” and Profile.

The current make up of the bill demonstrates the legislative biases that exist and contribute to building higher walls of distrust between police, Blacks and Browns.

The public got played as legislators caved in to law enforcement agencies and shows who legislators really listen and cater too.

Senate Bill 1849 — also referred to as the Sandra Bland Act initially introduced by State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston and was touted publicly as a justice battle cry by State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston earlier.

The bill promised to address race, poverty, mental health and accountability in law enforcement and corrections and was announced with great loud press conferences and dog and pony shows between state legislators vying for headlines and catchy statements after the death of Sandra Bland and how a police officer abused his authority and powers during a routine traffic stop caught by video.

The legislative process demonstrates the great divide between the attitudes in Austin, the power of police agencies and lobbies and how the citizens voice is but a whimper and means little to those in Austin elected to protect and serve citizens of the Lone Star State.

That great divide and bias in legislation is one of the main reasons lines are drawn in the sand between the public and police and little progress has been made in not moving forward the public relations perception of the police in Black and Brown communities.

House Bill 2908 – Protect the Police

Under House Bill 2908, makes it a terroristic threat that puts a police officer or judge in fear of imminent bodily injury would be a state jail felony, which carries a sentence of up to two years in jail.

Unlawfully restraining or assaulting a police officer or judge would be a second-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Any crime against either group that results in serious bodily injury would be a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison.

In Texas, hate crimes are offenses committed with a bias or prejudice against someone’s “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender or sexual preference,” according to state law. 

It was a big deal because the legislation is an answer to two recent attacks: the 2016 ambush that left six Dallas police officers dead and many more injured, and the 2015 attack on state District Judge Julie Kocurek outside her Austin home. Kocurek survived the attack.

Gov. Greg Abbott supports and wants the targeted killing of a police officer to be deemed a hate crime in Texas

He lobbied for adding his Police Protection Act to Texas law. Along with extending hate crime protections to law enforcement, the measure would increase criminal penalties for any crimes in which the victim is a law enforcement officer and “create a culture of respect for law enforcement by organizing a campaign to educate young Texans on the value law enforcement officers bring to their communities,” according to a statement from Abbott’s office.

He is set to sign the bill into law to make it effective September 1.

Sandra Bland -No Power to the People

In the midst of last week’s all too familiar news reports — of the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision not to file civil rights charges in Alton Sterling’s case; ex-cop Michael Slayer’s guilty plea on charges that he used excessive force as he fired eight rounds into the back of an unarmed Walter Scott; and the fatal police shooting of 15-year-old high school student Jordan Edwards as he drove away from a party in Dallas, there was and still is little cry from Abbott for Sandra Bland.

What Austin accomplished this session on the issue of the way police treats its citizens during stops did little more than put “lipstick on a pig”.

In the words of Sharon Cooper, sister of Sandra Bland, the results of the hoopla have turned into a big huge disappointment and much to do about nothing for the family and a huge let down to many Black and Brown citizens who elected Coleman and Whitmire – who serve predominantly Black and Brown districts in Houston.

I combed through the Senate’s revision of the Sandra Bland Act clinging to a sliver of hope that the sponsor, State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, would make law enforcement accountability a priority,” she wrote in a “The Missing Narrative of Sandra Bland”, TribTalk-Perspectives on Texas column, May 13, 2017. “While the bill passed, language that contained specific law enforcement references such as consent searches, requiring identification of implicit bias as effective means of policing and prohibiting “pretext stops” — traffic stops for one offense that are used to investigate another — were all omitted. It tore open the emotional scars of this ordeal, leaving me as raw as the day I received the call that Sandy was found dead in the Waller County jail, three days after a pretext traffic stop!”

The legislation was named in honor of Sandra Bland, a black, 28-year-old Illinois woman who was found dead in an apparent suicide in the Waller County Jail in 2015.

Bland was pulled over in Prairie View on July 10, 2015, by then-Texas Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia after she failed to signal a lane change. When Bland’s conversation with Encinia became heated, he arrested her on a charge of assaulting a public servant. She was found dead in her cell three days later.

The calls went out to examine police interaction with citizens and pointed to the need to protect citizens and change the way police conduct traffic stops and interact with citizens during these stops providing greater safety and accountability in hopes of preventing another Sandra Bland tragedy.

Like Cooper, many others too had hoped that amidst all the police killings of African-Americans that something would be done to send a message to law enforcement to respect its citizens and show that Black Lives do matter and help develop a mutual respect for community and police that results in ensuring that all lives matter.

During Representative Garnett Coleman Press Conference on March 2, 2017, Coleman read a committee report with findings read in part that said.

“The Sandra Bland Act aims to improve and correct Texas’ criminal justice system to make it better for all people and prevent future tragedies like Sandra Bland’s.

The Committee found that there are significant racial disparities in how the Texas Department of Public Safety treats Blacks when compared to Whites after they have been pulled over for a traffic violation. The Committee also found that the way DPS records and presents the data needs to be improved. This Act will address these problems by strengthening Texas’ racial profiling law, as well as ensuring that the data Texas collects is robust, clear, and accurate.

The Committee found reason to believe that Sandra Bland and many other people are still being stopped for an underlying pretext. Though pre-textual stops are not the policy of DPS, Texas law needs to be strengthened to ensure that it does not happen at DPS or any other law enforcement agency in Texas. The Sandra Bland Act does this by explicitly outlawing the practice of pretext stops, as well as outlawing consent searches, and raising the burden of proof needed to both stop and search vehicles in Texas. These changes will ensure the rights of all are better protected.”

Additionally, the Committee found that it would be beneficial to the public that all law enforcement would use de-escalation tactics in all interactions with the public. The officer escalating the routine traffic stop was the catalyst for the events that led to the death of Sandra Bland. Implementing policies that better train officers to de-escalate interactions with the public will keep us all safer and prevent future tragedies.

In essence, some criticize the changes contending the bill does not address racial profiling, hold police officers accountable for their actions, or the racist occupation of oppressed communities that makes “hyper-militarized” law-enforcement agencies believe that they have the right to play vengeful gods.

These eye-popping results provide serious conclusions about how the elected officials and the legislative process fails its citizens.

The failure of lawmakers to do the right thing after staging a fuss over the tragedy should be an eyeopener as too who they really serve… And it’s not the people!!!

What has changed then? Nothing since that portion of key protection for Blacks and Browns was completely gutted from the bill.

Strong-Arm” of Law Prevailed

Why? Maybe because records shows the influence and power of law enforcement lobby groups. It has been noted that the Senate did not fully use that power, instead bowing to pressure from a law-enforcement community that felt “punitively attacked” by the legislation.

It was a straight-out attack on all law enforcement over a tragic suicide in a county jail,” said Charley Wilkson, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas.

Law enforcement does what it wants in the streets, gets what it wants in the legislature and Black and Brown citizens suffer because of it.

What the bill does in its current state renders Sandy invisible,” Cooper recent said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press. “It’s frustrating and gut-wrenching.”

On Whitmire, Cooper added. “Sen. Whitmire, on his Facebook page, asserted that the Sandra Bland Act will go a long way to ensure the state of Texas adequately addresses the safety and mental health needs of people confined in county jails…. As a family, we understand that the catastrophic circumstances of Sandy’s unnecessary arrest and subsequent death in jail served as the impetus for legislation that seeks to protect the lives of those pulled into a criminal justice system that offers limited resources to meet their needs. It’s equally important, though, that a bill named in her honor adequately addresses the urgency to engage in dialogue that fits Sandy’s circumstances, by acknowledging that avoidance of accountability amongst law enforcement officials who operate outside of ethical and moral parameters is no longer the answer to policing American civilians with equity and fairness.”

Legislators Put the Best Face on Failing Its Constituencies

The idea that it actually has passed out of one house means that it will have an impact because it will give people encouragement, and that’s the big impact,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), who composed the original 55-paged bill. “Encouragement to try to continue to make change.”

The bill hit Austin changed. It was transformed more into a mental health bill dealing with incidents in jail over than dealing with the “blood on the hands of police departments” that usually occur with traffic stops and continues to accumulate with every encounter that ends up a police involved shooting

The real question behind Sandra Bland is whether police officers are conscious enough and honest enough to honor their own code of ethics and oath of honor as it relates to dealing with citizens Black, Brown, Yellow or White.

According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Oath of Honor reflects these same values and expectations, but in a more easily understood and powerful manner. It facilitates institutionalization through verbal reaffirmation, incorporation in training materials, placement on brochures and equipment and continual reinforcement through a variety of media.

It is a public affirmation of adhering to an Oath of Honor is a powerful vehicle demonstrating ethical standards. Before officers take the Law Enforcement Oath of Honor, it is important that they understand what it means and that the oath is a solemn pledge individuals make when they sincerely intend to do what is said.

If all that is true with police officers, then Sandra Bland deserved better.

Doing this for Sandra –

From the halls of the Capital in Washington D.C. to the chambers in Austin, elected officials and legislators are apparently influenced by the highest bidders and campaign donors, not the citizens who diligently go to the polls and elect them to represent the interests of the community.

Since legislators play games in Austin and do not have the fortitude to force law enforcement to keep its own words to protects its citizens honorably, then maybe someone needs to suggest to law enforcement to recite their own oath at morning and afternoon roll call meetings like the Pledge of Allegiance to remind them of their commitment to “We the People”.

Repetition with routine can bring about remembrance.

The people deserve better because Talk is Cheap and Bull$h*t stinks…

By: Darwin Campbell