Tag Archives: houston

On Mayor Turner’s Police Reform Task Force

First of all, I am of the opinion that all the great ideas to reform our local police departments have already been discussed and presented, and that they have been presented prior to the events that occurred in Minneapolis.

There has been a dire need for police reform in most cities, including Houston, for decades and nothing has been attempted; if anything, it’s been avoided for political expediency and to appease those who do not support any kind of police reform. We don’t need committees, we need decisive leadership to change the system and the culture of policing.

A committee of favorites that doesn’t include groups that have been at the forefront of police reform advocacy will not come up with anything new. If anything, my fear is that a committee of favorites will only serve as a rubber stamp for the wants of the Mayor, the Chief of Police and the police union. This must be of, by, and for the people, and this committee has too many familiar faces that only talk a good game. For some, it seems it’s what they do for a living.

I wholeheartedly agree with Transform Houston which states:

  1. The 45-person board does not include any individuals currently associated with Black Lives Matter Houston. Moreover, it includes only one organization that is part of the Houston Right2Justice Coalition which has already offered community driven policy recommendations on policing to Mayor Turner.
  2. A number of individuals represented on the task force have been employed by law enforcement agencies. If our goal is to explore ways to end the status quo problems with modern policing, having so many individuals at the table who have been deeply entrenched within those broken structures seems counterproductive to achieving meaningful reform.
  3. Mayor Turner has now had 2 separate bodies recommend police reform measures – both his 2016 Transition Committee on Criminal Justice and a 2017 report on fiscal responsibility and economic growth. The recommendations from both of those reports have yet to be implemented. At today’s press conference the Mayor seemed to dismiss the recommendations as no longer valid given the current movement to reform our policing system. To be clear, there are measures that have been proposed that could be immediately implemented by Mayor Turner that would begin the process of reforming how HPD does its work.
  4. Finally, Pastor Max Miller is listed as a member of the task force. Pastor Miller is well known as an anti-LGBTQ activist who worked tirelessly to spread misinformation about Houston’s transgender community during the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance City Council debates and ballot initiative.

The list of members of the committee is here. I know a few of them personally and a few others I know of their works in the community. According to the Mayor, their charge is to review policies, review the current independent review board, assess release of body camera footage, study best practices, assess community policing practices, and study the presence of police in the community. So, I agree with Kuff when he says let’s see them do something.

But, this kind of “study” should be an ongoing thing and not just one that happens when 60,000 people show up to rally, or when HPD kills the next black or brown person and fails to release results of an internal investigation. When it comes to police practices, and given the current surge of bad apples in policing and those quitting because of rules being imposed on them, the whole system should be under citizen watch beyond our cell phones.

The Mayor and Council are supposed to be our advocates as we elect them to oversee our government services (including police), but it appears that they are falling short. And a committee of favorites does not help this cause.

 

The Latest on Local Police Reform

The Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved a long list of items that could lead to reform of law enforcement at the county level.

At the very least, these reforms will create some semblance of transparency over law enforcement budgeting and statistics regarding racial disparities in the system itself, and create a mechanism to ensure the indigent are represented in criminal courts. Most importantly, it gets the ball rolling on an independent civilian oversight board with subpoena power.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez took to social media to tell us of his dislike of the #defund movement, stating that more money is needed. My own thinking is that a more transparent budget process would definitely allow us to look beyond the usually undisputed round numbers that go with funding law enforcement.

He added:

I’m putting in the work to review how my agency can do better. For some changes, we don’t need extra time to review, I’m moving forward now. Other changes may require more time, simply because they’re complex issues that require thoughtful deliberation. We prohibit the use of chokeholds, but we’re going to make it even more clear in policy. We will immediately implement a Duty to Report policy. We will increase audits of our BWC’s and taser use. And more is in the works. The time to act is now.

I hope the Sheriff understands that it takes these types of events, including the local unresolved murder-by-cop case in his own department of Joshua Johnson, to exact some action from our leaders. A lot more is needed. Above all, these things must be codified in countywide (and statewide and federal) fashion so that the next Sheriff doesn’t obliterate it all.

Either way, it’s good to see something that was decided by those whom we elected.

In other news…

After City Council failed to support a comprehensive list of police reforms submitted as budget amendments by CM Letitia Plummer, they approved an increase in funding for HPD. Instead, Mayor Sylvester Turner signed an executive order on police practices.

The EO covers the police department’s response to resistance, de-escalation, use of deadly force, prohibited techniques, and no-knock warrants. For the first time, it codifies prohibited techniques, such as neck restraints or chokeholds, which cannot be used unless objectively necessary to prevent imminent serious bodily injury or death to the officer or others.

No word on reforms that lead to more transparency and accountability, such as release of bodycam film and investigations of the bad apples and the good apples who allow them to be bad, but, supposedly, there is a task force.

Obviously, we will all keep an eye on this and the coming push back from the naysayers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harris County To Consider Reforms to Law Enforcement

Harris County Commissioner Pct 1 Rodney Ellis and his Democratic colleagues (Judge Hidalgo and Commissioner Garcia) will propose some needed reforms to law enforcement in Harris County. Stated Commissioner Ellis on his Facebook page:

Harris County devotes more than $776 million to the Sheriff and Constables. That’s 45% of our total spending of our general fund departmental budget. By reallocating funds towards community resources we can begin to build a better quality of life for communities of color and stop using the criminal justice system to address problems associated with poverty and health.

The Chron’s Zach Despart posted the proposals:

As Kuff states, it’s harder for the Commisssioners to impose police reforms on law enforcement departments run by their own elected officials, such as Sheriff and Constables. But each of these proposals has much to do with how tax dollars for law enforcement are allocated and how these offices will become more accountable to the people, i.e., the creation of an independent civilian review board with subpoena power.

Kuff also reminds us that the Houston Mayor and City Council do have more power to effect police reforms and I must agree that City Council Member Letitia Plummer’s budget amendment proposals should be a starting point for implementation. Considering that the Mayor is proposing almost a billion dollars for law enforcement with no particular proposal for change or reform, it is definitely time for a public discussion led by elected officials, rather than political appointees.

 

 

 

Jackson: Reform Police Union Contracts

Candidate for Houston City Council District B, Tarsha Jackson, who is known as a community and criminal justice reform advocate, posted on her Facebook page what would seem like obvious solutions. At least where reforming an entire system should begin:

My heart is heavy over the constant murders of my Black Brothers and Sister at the hands of our public servants. Forgive me for not being impressed to see police chiefs and elected leaders standing in solidarity with protesters over the murder of our Brother George Floyd. We’ve seen this scene played out over and over again– BUT Until the Police union contracts are reformed, we will continue to witness our brothers and sisters civil and human rights violated by corrupt police officers.

In 2018, after the murder of our Brother Danny Ray Thomas, community members recommended the following NINE changes to Police Union Contracts to ensure accountability and to improve relations between HPD and the community. Our leaders have the power to make these changes today!

RECOMMENDED POLICE UNION CONTRACT CHANGES:

*Establish consideration of misconduct in promotions (Art. 19 Sec. 8): Officers with a history of misconduct should be subject to point deductions from the promotions formula. This will ensure that two otherwise similar promotion candidates can be fairly distinguished based on their prior misconduct.

*Eliminate technicalities and strengthen promotional bypass process (Art. 20) To the extent promotional bypass remains part of the promotions process (we believe it should be eliminated), then the process in this contract is particularly problematic. There should be no arbitrary time limit after which the Chief cannot apply a promotional bypass (delete Art. 20(4)). Once a candidate has been bypassed due to past disciplinary issues, that person should be pulled from the pool. The chief should not be required to bypass that same person over and over and face an appeal each time. The standard for review should be “valid reason” in accordance with normal standards in labor appeals law.

*Provide path to independent investigation (Art. 30 Sub (2), (4) and (7)): Under this contract, investigations must be conducted by Department personnel. State civil service law, by contrast, allows investigations to be conducted by any municipal employee. Houston can only move toward a process of independent civilian (nonsworn) investigation of police complaints if we alter this provision.

*Eliminate officer review of all evidence prior to making a statement: officers should be able to review only their own materials before making a statement, not the statements of everyone else involved and everyone’s video. Allowing the person under investigation to review all the evidence prior to making a statement is not a “best practice” in any circumstance and should not be a special privilege for police officers.

*Eliminate misconduct statute of limitations: After 180 days from the incident date, the most serious misconduct cannot be addressed at all due to an arbitrary “statute of limitations” clause. This is called the “180 day” rule and is a major problem. It should be eliminated. Serious misconduct should be sanctionable even if the Chief learns about it long after it occurred. If it cannot be eliminated, the time period should be lengthened to at least 365 days.

*Prevent appropriate disciplinary action from being overturned on appeal: Under this contract, when an officer appeals his sanction the burden of proof is on the Chief, and the proof includes 1. the truth of the charges and 2. that a just cause exists for the specific discipline imposed. Instead the burden should be on the officer to prove that the discipline was not reasonable. And, while clearly the charges should always be true, the second clause requires the Chief to prove, in a side by side test with other cases, that this particular suspension length had “just cause.” This is likely to result in discipline being routinely overturned or reduced. Council should request from the Department a summary of every suspension in the past five years, whether it was appealed, and what was the outcome of the appeal (overturned, upheld, or partially overturned with a lesser discipline).

*Never expunge records of past misconduct or even suspected past misconduct (Art. 31(10)): Police generally oppose efforts by the public to expunge criminal records (even of minor violations) because they say even an arrest on a subsequently dismissed charge might prove important to a criminal investigation later. This same reasoning should apply to all records of all officer misconduct. Nothing should be expunged, and all past history should be available to the Chief for review when a new incident occurs.

*Exculpatory evidence of an officer’s history of misconduct should be a public court document: (Art. 31(12)) This contract creates an unnecessary burden on the courts and attorneys by requiring special legal protections (secrecy) for misconduct information that must be handed over to the defense in a criminal trial. Under the Michael Morton Act, the prosecutor MUST give the defense information about the arresting officer’s history of misconduct if it is exculpatory. The contract should specifically exclude evidence provided to the defense under the Michael Morton Act from 143.089g personnel file protections. The process for providing such evidence to the prosecutor and the defense should be straight forward and then once provided to both parties in the case it should be subsequently posted to a website.

*Limit supervisory interventions and never reduce discipline to a supervisory intervention (Art. 32): Supervisory interventions are not discipline and do not create a disciplinary record, even if they may indicate other problems. Several items should be considered for removal from this supervisory intervention list: improper ticket/citation, improper or untimely response to a call, discourtesy to citizens, refusal to identify self including removal/obscuring/failure to wear name badge; abusive language, disrespect for fellow officers, unauthorized ride-alongs. Further, in no case should more serious discipline be reduced to a “supervisory intervention” because this will also eliminate the record of an officer’s prior misconduct.

Stop It With The Hero Worship

Too many people are going through this need for heroes. Everyone is a hero nowadays. I’m fine with farm workers (who feed us) and medical personnel (who have been fighting the COVID19 battle), but when it comes to talking heads and media hounds, I draw the line.

I thought the most annoying example was the Great White Hype Hope syndrome that many liberals are going through during the pandemic. Fauci, Cuomo, and even Newsom. (And I like Newsom.) They are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and in a Trump climate, but it’s nothing special that requires sainthood. As much as I defend and compliment our Latina County Judge, the same goes for her. They are doing their jobs despite the policies of the Abbotts and Trumps.

Then, George Lloyd was murdered and it became Jacob Frey and Gov Walz in Minnesota. Then it became any cop or police chief who joined a march or gave a symbolic kneel. Tear-filled speeches and symbolic gestures seem to grab and calm people; unfortunately, it only allows for more inaction. Distract and divert.

They’ve all made some pretty awful decisions, though. As far as big city mayors and police chiefs go, they literally attacked peaceful protesters (and reporters) with plastic bullets, tear gas, and horses. They were quick to blame the outsider, but I haven’t seen any of the white supremacists who are getting blamed being shot, gassed, or trampled. And when the sister of cop-murdered Houstonian Joe Campos Torres also gets arrested here in Houston, well, one wonders if something else is going at HPD.

Locally, Art Acevedo and local elected officials who have been elected and re-elected have had plenty of opportunity to push for criminal justice and policing reforms. Acevedo throws out some good lines and good hugs on camera, but where are the changes? Certainly, the death and police violence continues locally despite one of his underlings mouthing off on TV that Lloyd’s murder was in Minnesota and not here, so why protest here? As if Houstonians had no other reason to protest.

At the county level, there have been attempts at criminal justice and bail reform thanks to Judge Hidalgo, Commissioners Ellis and Garcia, and Sheriff Gonzalez. Unfortunately, they are stopped by Republicans at all levels. But they still try.

This is a conversation that must lead to actual effort and actual change and it must be had at all levels. We can’t take the attitude that if the votes aren’t there, then we must wait. If one doesn’t even try to change public opinion from the pulpit in which the voters placed them, then why even have them there?

But people buy into the hero worship because someone gives out a good image. We all want to feel the warm and fuzzies during a scary time. But, there comes a time when someone seen as a leader needs to act. And policing reforms need to happen. They’ve needed to happen since the promises began after the 1992 Rodney King beating. They’ve needed to happen throughout the history of the United States.

One would figure than in a Democratic majority city, with a Democratic majority city council that Houston PD would make the changes. Unfortunately, it would seem that kowtowing to the police union takes precedent over charges of police brutality. In reality, there is a dire need for leadership. The type of leadership that doesn’t only ask for the badges of bad cops, but that takes them away.

That we don’t have leadership at the top of the United States and Texas is obvious. But that doesn’t mean those who are on our side of the issue at other levels shrivel up and die and leave the rest of us to die. And certainly, diverting and distracting the people by making media-savvy moves is not a solution.

If your elected officials and law enforcement leaders aren’t in a room at this moment discussing how they will stop the law enforcement kill culture, change policing methods, enact real citizen review boards, reform a racist criminal justice system, and end a racist mass incarceration system, then, all the talk is just bullshit.

 

Just Another Kill For The LE Trophy Case

Whatever the media is showing on your TVs really are not the final words of George Floyd, murdered by law enforcement at the age of 46.

Among George’s last words, as a cop’s knee pressed into his neck for nine minutes, were, “Mama, Mama.”

That was before the sounds coming out of him became agonizing moans. And that was before he was flopped onto a stretcher, his neck snapping before the cop (obviously not an EMT tech) grabbed hold of his head so it would stop flopping around as he was placed on the stretcher before he was placed in the ambulance. (He probably remembered he was on camera.)

George Floyd is another black person in an ever-growing long line of victims of police brutality and state-sanctioned murder. He joins names like Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. As George is connected to Houston, one should also remember names like John Hernandez and Nicolas Chavez who were killed by local law enforcement.

These cop-lead murders happen so often, that it is easy to become desensitized to them. Even when there is video. One has a choice to become numb to reality or allow emotions to take over. But one doesn’t experience the depths of humanity until you see a person calling out for his mother at the hands of a murderer.

Oh yeah, that kind of thing has been portrayed in romanticized versions of war–the fresh-faced white kid with his guts shot out calling out for his mom. But this is real life. And it’s the “good guys” who are doing the killing.

But it’s the “good guys” who have all the defenses in the world. Whether it’s some puffed up media-savvy police chief, or some loud-mouth, annoying cops union rep, they will defend their  bad apples until they can’t. Until there’s video that is compelling enough to make them do something. Or at the very least, makes them shut their mouths.

But even when the people respond and protest, it is the same cops who allow white supremacists to protest with high-powered weapons at our government buildings who then tear-gas and respond violently to black and brown protesters who are simply petitioning government for a redress of grievances. And their own trade media defends law enforcement and makes them out to be the victims to the delight of racists and law and order types. Because, obviously, it’s the dead who are the bad guys.

I am pretty much at the end of my trust threshold when it comes to law enforcement. Even if I do have friends and relatives in law enforcement. Whenever I hear someone running for sheriff or someone wanting to be a leader in government over law enforcement I want to hear about how they are going to change the culture of law enforcement. How they are going to stop the killing for no reason of black and brown people.

And then I want to see them do it. The usual brown-nosing for police union endorsements doesn’t give me much hope at this point. One who wants to lead needs to lead the way for change. It is that simple.

 

 

 

 

Local Republicans To Create COVID Spit Cloud in Downtown Houston

COVID Spit Clouds Matter!  [Original: LATimes]

Apparently, a local bigoted, hormone-shot giving, unelected chair of the Republican party is organizing the creation of Houston’s very own Right-Wing COVID spit cloud in Downtown as a response to County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s face covering order.

Apparently, these idiots want the right to get sick and then to make others sick during this pandemic by keeping their faces uncovered because they were told by a Latina Democrat to cover their faces, which, they say, is “socialism.” ((Reads comments on local news sites)) Yes, that’s what I gather from reading some of the badly spelled, idiotic, misogynistic, and bigoted comments on local news FB pages.

No need to debate these idiots. It’s a waste of time. Bottom line:  They’re dangerous. But they were dangerous before they wanted to form a COVID spit cloud, so, let’s not fool ourselves that masks are the only issue they have against Judge Hidalgo.

Just be warned of the dangers of walking into this right-wing COVID spit cloud that will appear at our county offices today. At this time, we haven’t been advised how long this spit cloud will linger in downtown after these mostly suburbanite and/or non-Harris County residents disperse. I am hoping the area is fumigated, or at least doused with some Fabuloso, after this threat to our health.

 

40th Annual Festival Chicano Set To Launch on Thursday

Thursday night is the first night of the 40th Festival Chicano at Miller Outdoor Theater. Beginning at 7PM, thousands of folks seated and on the hill will enjoy the music of Grupo Fuerte, Los Desperadoz, and Jaime De Anda (JDA).

Festival Chicano is a weekend filled with music, culture, and community enjoyed by thousands every fall. Earlier this week, Mayor Sylvester Turner and City Council approved a resolution honoring the festival.

It’s safe to say that creating Festival Chicano wasn’t an easy feat, according to festival founder and director Daniel Bustamante. In an interview with Tony Diaz at KPFTs Nuestra Palabra show, Bustamante tells us that he had to fight his way into Miller Outdoor Theater.

Festival Chicano first started with a concert held at Moody Park in the northside of Houston on Easter, 1977. After attracting over 10,000 spectators, the City of Houston was a bit upset because of crowd issues. The fact that there were limited facilities, parking and other issues didn’t sit well with the City. Bustamante offered the idea to use Miller Outdoor Theater.

The City and the MOT folks weren’t too keen on the idea. Maybe it was the thought of 10,000 Chicanos converging on a major facility, but the excuse to first deny the Festival was that the facility was for “fine arts.” Of course, it wasn’t like Bustamante lacked an infrastructure. With the support of Little Joe y La Familia and with the intent to empower a community through culture, there was little doubt that the event would be a success.

It took a few more years to finally get to the MOT. After the HPD murder of Joe Campos Torres and the pushback at Moody Park, the City may have become more receptive. With Little Joe’s support, the first official show at Miller was held on April 1980. 40 years later, the festival continues with capacity crowds and the very best music in Texas. Little Joe has played every year, except for one, and will get to celebrate his 79th birthday on Friday.

Friday features Little Joe, La .45, and Los Monarcas. The festival closes on Saturday with Elida Reyna y Avante, Los Garcia Brothers, and Tejano Highway 281.

THE MUSIC

Los Garcia Brothers, Los Monarcas, and Grupo Fuerte are considered hard-core conjunto bands, led by the acordeon and the bajo sexto. Fuerte and Monarcas are local favorites, while Los Garcia Brothers, dressed in zoot suits, travel from Eagle Pass.

Los Desperadoz are also a conjunto but with a more progressive slant to their music. They recently released a new album, so, I expect they will put on a good show. And speaking of good shows, Jaime De Anda, a showman and killer acordeonista in his own right, will showcase his new band, JDA. De Anda recently went solo after separating from the group he founded in Houston, Los Chamacos.

Of course, Little Joe (y La Familia) is a living legend who continues a heavy touring schedule showcasing an amazing horn and rhythm section. La .45 is led by a couple of former members of La Familia and also offer up a 5 piece horn section that plays original and old school favorites. Elida Reyna y Avante are also touring behind a new album. The powerful-voiced Reyna is sure to wow the crowd with her cumbias and rancheras, and a big sing-along is expected for Luna Llena. Finally, Tejano Highway 281 is an up-and-coming band from the Rio Grande Valley with a style that brings together conjunto, Tejano, and country. Expect to be impressed.

I expect to be there for at least two of the nights. I’ve got a DJ gig on Saturday, but I’ll probably play some of the music from the bands I’m missing. Check out Festival Chicano, wear your favorite candidate/political t-shirt, and take in nuestra cultura.

¡QUE VIVA DANIEL BUSTAMANTE!

¡Y QUE VIVA EL FESTIVAL CHICANO!

Executive “Interns” Aren’t Coffee Go-Fers

I swear, right-wingers and second-rate reporters run on stupid to gain votes and ratings.

Mayor Sylvester Turner’s opponents, which apparently includes local media, are trying to make something out of nothing when it comes to the “$95K intern” that a local station discovered in plain sight (it’s public record). The Mayor’s opponents play on ignorance–all of the time.

It’s obvious the local station is creating something out of nothing since they seem to concentrate on the attempted “gotcha!” BS of reporter Mario Diaz who pushed a mic in the Mayor’s face while he was walking out of a police cadet swearing-in ceremony in attempt to surprise the Mayor. It was pretty disrespectful. Even the best reporters wait for a press conference or gaggle when they question the President on his law-breaking and impeachable offenses. In this case, it was theater–and it wasn’t even good theater. And the Mayor’s political opponents are the worst actors.

As far as the intern is concerned, I have no problem with city government having an executive training program, which is what this should have been called by the local news, and what it is. “Intern” sounds to most like a coffee go-fer at KPRC. And perhaps that’s what comes to mind to most voters when someone says “intern.” Maybe folks should think better of interns.

This guy is not your run-of-the-mill office go-fer. The position was created to start a management training program. It’s no different than corporations with similar programs, like Enterprise. Or, even our own state universities who seek out talent within the academic ranks to give them experience in the administration side of things–I think they call them “assistant to the president,” or something to that effect. Why shouldn’t governments do the same as corporations? Don’t we want better government?

The “intern” in question has three degrees–two of them from my alma mater (Texas State). It’s not like he’s not qualified for the job or even the salary; although, some lawyer who KPRC brought around says he’s “too qualified” to be a coffee go-fer. Yeah, he is. And he isn’t a coffee go-fer. He’s training to become a government executive. One needs experience to run things, no?

This story does point out a need for our city governments:  A management training program in all executive departments so we can keep and grow talent in city management and not lose them to the private sector so quickly. Oh, and maybe interns should be paid, whether they bring coffee or help run things.

As far as playing “Gotcha!”, it would seem local reporters need to step up their game. At the very least, improve the theatrics.

 

40th Annual Festival Chicano, OCT 3-4-5, 2019

Daniel Bustamante and the crew at Festival Chicano have released the line-up and dates for the 3-day music festival to be held at Miller Outdoor Theater. October 3-4-5, 2019 will be a special weekend as this will be the 40th annual festival featuring some of the top bands en la Onda Chicana. I’ll have more on the line-up in the near future. For now, check out the line-up below: