Category Archives: Criminal Justice

TexasCJC: Harris County’s Racially Targeted Policies

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition has released a study on the impact of Harris County’s racially targeted policies, specifically its trace amounts policy and its anti-immigrant policies. From the study, though, one gets a sense that perhaps a bond between the African American and Hispanic communities can work together to effect meaningful criminal justice policies that benefit the entire community.

The study found that Harris County focuses its resources on drug crimes, especially felony drug possession; in fact, it has been the number one felony charge in the county for 20 years. Worse, although blacks and whites have similar drug-use rates, it is African Americans who are targeted most for arrest, prosecution, and conviction.

While blacks make up about 19 percent of Harris County residents, they made up almost 50 percent of those arrested for felony drug possession between October 2011 and September 2012, and they comprise 65.8 percent of those being incarcerated by Harris County in state prisons or jails for felony drug possession.

The County’s policies seem to apply to the Hispanic community, particularly its over-commitment to immigration enforcement. As DosCentavos has found in its own research, and now backed up by this study, the vast majority of those booked and then found to be unauthorized immigrants and reported to ICE have not been convicted of a crime or have been convicted of petty, usually undeportable crimes. Moreover, many of these detentions are more than likely based on racial and ethnic stereotypes, not much different from the African Americans targeted for drug arrests.

The report especially calls out the immigration policies for the stereotype that it creates–that all immigrants are criminals or likely to commit crimes. In fact, foreign-born detainees go to prison at lesser rates than U.S. citizens arrested for crimes.

Ultimately, this is all about safety. The contention that arresting people for trace drug amounts stops property crimes is far-fetched. Likewise, is the contention that somehow keeping working immigrants in deportation limbo in an ICE facility is somehow a crime-fighting tactic. All this does is cause a sense of distrust between the community and the police. Especially within immigrant communities, the effect of this distrust is a lower likelihood that crimes will be reported for fear of law enforcement.

Obviously, the new Republican DA is not helping by re-instituting its trace policy, and our Democratic Sheriff does not help by continuing the Secure Communities and 287g programs. But this opens up and opportunity for communities to work together to demand accountability and better services from a taxing entity, such as Harris County.

Read the entire report here.

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Houston Fights Crime Better Than Most Major Cities

Thanks to the Office of Mayor Pro-Tem Ed Gonzalez for the heads-up. Click the image to enlarge. This info is quite encouraging.

Houston Crime

Save the Date: Trapped in the System: Mass Incarceration in Texas, 2/10

Thanks to our friends with the ACLU of Texas for providing us the info.

February 10 at 2:00pm until February 11 at 12:00pm

Register today: www.aclutx.org/lobby

Texas has 94 university campuses and 114 state prisons (not counting jails, federal lockups, and juvenile facilities.

With more buildings to lock people up than to educate people, Texas must change its priorities. Ensuring that our children have a good education is one of the best ways to keep them out of the criminal justice system. Between 1980 and 2000 the ratio of growth in Texas corrections to higher education spending was 7:1.

Join us in Austin Feb 10-11 for Trapped in the System: Mass Incarceration in Texas. We’ll discuss the causes of mass incarceration, how we can reduce it, and how the criminalization of communities in Texas has led to skyrocketing incarceration rates.

Day 1 | Symposium
We’ll discuss the causes of mass incarceration and how we can reduce it. Followed by a social reception.

Sunday, February 10, 2pm-5pm
Radisson Hotel & Suites Austin Downtown
111 East Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78701

Day 2 | Lobby Day
You’ll get a chance to go to the Capitol with us and meet your lawmakers.

Monday, Feb 11 9am-12pm
Meet at Texas AFL-CIO, 1106 Lavaca Street, Austin, TX 78701

Register: www.aclutx.org/lobby

Caravan for Peace Destroys Guns Today

Here’s a video highlight of today’s Caravan for Peace and Justice action.

Video footage of Houston actions by the Caravan for Peace, including clips of the purchase of an AK-47 by Houston based supporters of the Caravan, the dismantling of the semiautomatic weapon by poet and Caravan leader, Javier Sicilia and testimony by Caravan member, Margarita Lopez, whose 19 year old daughter was disappeared and murdered by men bearing assault weapons. Most of the guns that killed the more than 60,000 victims of the drug war in Mexico were killed with weapons sold by gun dealers like those in Houston, home to one of the highest concentrations of guns dealerships selling guns to Mexico.

Caravan for Peace to Confront Gun Dealer

As DC has reported to you all, the Caravan for Peace and Justice, an effort to stop the failed “war on drugs,” will be arriving in Houston tonight. Click here to get the latest itinerary. On Monday, before heading out to other parts on the way to DC, they will confront a local gun dealer linked to drug traffickers. Here’s the press release:

Caravan for Peace, Mexican Victims of Drug War to Dismantle Military-Style Assault Weapon and Transform into Symbol of Peace at Heart of Historic Mexican Neighborhood.

Bearing pictures of their dead relatives, families, exiled Juarez residents, relatives of the more than 60,000 killed in drug war will also go to Carter’s Country, Houston Arms Dealer Linked to Gun Sales to Drug traffickers, and Confront Them with the Human Toll of Drug War and the Urgent Need to Regulate These Weapons

Houston, Texas –On Monday, August 27th, members of the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity will join Houston-based and other US residents, to gather in the heart of the historic Mexican neighborhood in Houston to publicly dismantle a military-style assault weapon purchased Saturday and bury it in cement in a public action calling attention to the human devastation caused by this kind of weapon. Caravan members and their supporters will also demand that President Obama enforce the existing ban on the importation of military-style assault weapons and other measures to stop the illegal sale of weapons, which have been linked to the deaths of thousands of Mexicans killed in the drug war.

Participants in the solemn act will dismantle an assault weapon like those sought by drug cartels and easily purchased from gun dealers and private citizens. They will then transform it into a symbol of peace, in an act harkening back to the turning of swords into plowshares. Families bearing large and small pictures of loved ones lost in Mexico’s drug war will later join Mexican exiles in confronting the Carter’s Country gun dealership with images and testimonies of the effects of these military assault weapons on families living on both sides of the border.

“We’re not here in the United States to contest the Second Amendment. The Caravan for Peace is here because our loved ones have been shot and kidnapped, displaced and murdered with military assault weapons sold in U.S. stores and gun shows,” said Javier Sicilia, the poet turned activist and Caravan leader after his son, Juan Francisco, was killed last year. “Assault weapons sold by U.S. gun dealers like those here in Houston are responsible for thousands of drug war deaths in Mexico, and in doing so, these gun dealers make a mockery of the Second Amendment. Together, you here in the United States, and we in Mexico, can help end this madness,” Sicilia concluded.

Where: 333 South Jensen Dr., Houston (map) (event at 11am) and the Caravan will then drive to Carter’s Country, 2120 S. Shaver St., Pasadena (map) following the press conference

When: Monday, August 27, 11:00 a.m.

Media should contact Contact: John Lindsay-Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation: (510) 282-8983
Roberto Lovato, Presente.org: (213) 820-8424 for information related to the Caravan for Peace

Anyone may join the action online, too.

A petition demanding President Obama stop the flow of arms into our communities: http://act.presente.org/sign/caravana/?source=presente_website

And for more information.

Petition against gun smuggling: http://act.presente.org/sign/caravana/?source=presente_website

or text PEACE to 225568

For more information: http://www.caravanforpeace.org/

About the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity:www.movimientoporlapaz.mx

Facebook: facebook.com/caravan4Peace
Twitter: @CaravanaUSA (twitter.com/caravanaUSA)
Flickr: www.Flickr.com/photos/caravan4peace

Mail: caravanapresspass@movimientoporlapaz.mx

Diaz Still Wins After Recount

Frankly, I wasn’t surprised by the news that Chris Diaz still leads after a recount requested by his opponent–even adding an additional vote in Diaz’s favor.

The 17-vote margin is unofficial, Democratic Party chairman Lane Lewis said, adding the party plans to finalize the tallies on Saturday.

I attended the last CEC meeting in which Diaz’s 16-vote victory was actually canvassed, unfortunately, it seems his opponent, Zerick Guinn, and his supporters. With the County Clerk’s error that had Guinn substantially ahead, I guess folks had questions.

At the CEC canvassing, several of our Democratic members of the ballot board stated that once the discrepancy was corrected on election night, they were very sure the final results were accurate. So, given that, I didn’t expect a recount of an electronic vote to change much in the results. I think we can continue to agree with the ineptness of the County Clerk’s office, but as far as this race is concerned, I’m hoping we can move forward.

LEUV Launch a Huge Success

Latinos. Engaged. United. Voting (LEUV),Houston’s newest Latino engagement political action committee, launched Wednesday night before a large crowd atRiceVillage’s Bam Bou. What began as an event to educate and inform a diverse set of guests turned into a celebration and rallying call for action.

“The women in the room definitely made our inaugural forum special,” said event emcee, Danita Gallegos. “Along with powerful presentations from candidates Cindy Vara-Leija and Erica Lee, we were honored to have Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who just completed a third-term as President of NALEO, give the room a rousing pep talk; as well as HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche who added to the new energy felt throughout the room.”

The Latino Gallery with a Purpose, a set of 18” x 24” infographics detailing various statistics and facts highlighting themes impacting the Latino community, such as education, public safety, and socioeconomic discrepancies, was a hit and a source of lively dialogue for participants.

Cindy Vara-Leija, candidate for Constable Pct. 1, spoke regarding much of what was featured on the Latino Gallery, especially the statistics on crime, child abuse, and the underrepresentation of Latina elected officials in Harris County and Houston,TX.

“Looking through the Gallery, I couldn’t help but get mad at some of the more troubling facts about the Latino community—Are you mad? And are you ready to take action to change these facts?” asked Vara-Leija, to which the crowd responded with a resounding, “Yes!”

Speaking of her own career, Vara-Leija, who holds the distinction of being the first Latina Captain in the Precinct 1 Constable’s Office, spoke about her three decades of experience in law enforcement, and about the challenges women face in the field moving up the ranks, making a promise to make the promotional process one that takes women seriously

With this first test of the Latino Gallery with a Purpose, there are now plans to expand it and take it on the road.

“We want to enhance our ability to engage the community by offering these visual depictions on issues and themes impacting Latinos,” said Fidencio Leija, Jr., LEUV Co-Founder, adding, “From the students in attendance to guests, which included HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche, Judge Richard Vara, and Commissioner Garcia, all recognized the creative impact the gallery had on the crowd.”

Leija emphasized the fact that LEUV will continue to utilize modern tools to deliver a more engaging message on civic involvement, taking the gallery to schools, churches, parks, and especially through social media outlets.

Erica S. Lee, candidate for Harris County Board of Education Pct. 1, gave a poignant presentation, highlighting issues she faced working as a 1st grade teacher in Houston’s East End, stating that the experience, combined with her public policy work, has given her the background needed to be an effective member of the Board. Lee also made mention of President Obama’s recent DHS policy change benefiting DREAMers.

“Some of these are the kids that I taught early in my career,” said Lee. “President Obama’s effort to help DREAMers will open up doors of opportunity that will ultimately benefit our Nation, and we must support that.”

Local teacher, Adriana Salcedo-Saldaña, felt empowered by the candidacy of a fellow educator who wants to serve her community. “I was honored to introduce Ms. Lee as she has helped open my eyes to how state and local politics affects my classroom, and how I need to be proactive in ensuring my students and their parents are better served.”

In her introduction of Vara-Leija, Commissioner Garcia gave mention to a need for new and energetic leadership that will empower the next generation to become engaged in the political process. “I am so proud of this new organization and congratulate them on their first event,” said Garcia, “Their passion, energy, and commitment will help move our Latino community forward.”

In another presentation, guest speaker Joe Cardenas, III, former State Director of LULAC and also a high school teacher, challenged LEUV to take on lobbying duties when the State Legislature reconvenes. “It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican, if you think public education should be a top funding priority in Texas, then you must lobby for it at the Capitol,” said Cardenas, inviting them to rally on the first day of the legislative session in January, 2013.

Beyond the energy of the speeches was the number of guests volunteering for action, whether it was to give a few hours to a campaign or registering to vote. Deputy voter registrars Adan Gallegos and David Bustillos worked a registration table and were excited about registering someone who had not only attended her first political event, but was an educator who had never registered previously.

“The Latino community struggles with low voter participation and LEUV will work to increase that through our efforts,” said Bustillos. Adan Gallegos added, “Along with our low participation rates, we have to also increase our voter registration efforts, and tonight showed us that first-time voters are just as crucial to achieving success at the ballot box.”

Finally, event sponsor, LEUV founding contributor, and local business leader Greg Compean called supporters to “huddle up” for some sound advice, telling them that all of the speeches and all of the statistics will not matter much unless everyone in the room does their part in the process—volunteer on campaigns, volunteer to register voters, get involved in the legislative process, give donations, and just promote the greater good.

“The LEUV are young and energetic, with a lot of great ideas.  They have a lot of potential because they are reaching those people who have not been reached,” said Compean, “and that is the next step to achieving success for the Latino community in the political process.”

LEUV is planning additional forums and events throughout the summer and fall in the lead-up to the July 31st Runoff Election and November’s General Election, including a sequel to the Tacos and Votes event on Friday, July 27.  Stay Tuned!

July 11: Education and Safety Matters Event

Join LEUV in Making History…CONTRIBUTE TODAY!

 
Political ad paid for by Latinos. Engaged. United. Voting.

Feds Sue Arpaio–Finally!

We kind of knew it’s been coming, but Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been sued by the United States of America for civil rights violations–and it’s about time.

Arpaio has made it his job to vilify and menace Latinos–documented or not–during his tenure. He has gained national attention in doing so, and has even injected himself in local (Houston) politics by endorsing an equally right-wing opponent of our Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

The Feds explain the suit:

Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez said the Justice Department sued Maricopa County, the sheriff’s office and Arpaio in U.S. District Court in Arizona after trying unsuccessfully for three and a half months to get Arpaio to comply with federal civil rights law.

Arpaio faces re-election in November in the county that includes the Phoenix metropolitan area. He has become the face of hardline local efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, placing him on a collision course with the federal government.

Maricopa County has created inadequately trained special units that are used to target Latinos for unlawful and unjustified arrests; has willfully denied Latino prisoners their civil rights in jail; and under Arpaio’s direction has arrested political opponents for no valid reason, the DOJ suit contends.

“At its core, this is an abuse of power case involving Sheriff Arpaio and a sheriff’s office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices and did not hesitate to retaliate against perceived critics in a variety of unlawful ways,” said Perez.

“Constitutional policing and effective policing go hand in hand. The complaint outlines how Sheriff Arpaio’s actions were neither constitutional nor effective,” he said.

One needs to ask the right-wingers running for Sheriff if they approve of these kinds of gestapo tactics.

In one case, a sheriff’s officer stopped a Latina – a U.S. citizen who was five months pregnant – as she pulled into her driveway and insisted that she sit on the hood of her car.

“When she refused, the officer grabbed her arms, pulled them behind her back, and slammed her, stomach first, into the vehicle three times,” the suit said.

Nonetheless, the fact that one of them rejoices in a cheap TV ad that he was endorsed by Arpaio is enough to make one sick, given the facts of this lawsuit.

Obviously, we’ll keep an eye on this.

Fertitta Earns Chron Nod for DA

It wasn’t a surprise when Zack Fertitta was endorsed by the Chronicle to be the Democratic nominee for District Attorney. After seeing him in action at an event in Kingwood, where he exhibited a commitment to public safety and common sense criminal justice reform, little doubt was left that Democrats could have a strong candidate in November, as long as we give him our vote on May 29th in the Democratic Primary.

I caught a second speech of his at the Sharpstown Democrats club recently and put it on tape. I’m sure you’ll come to the same realization that he’s a great candidate deserving of our vote in May and November.