Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Advice for Texas police reform activists outside the big counties: Interview with Chas Moore, plus was George Floyd set up by a crooked Houston narcotics cop? Texas' anachronistic 'riot' laws, and other stories

Better late than never, here's the June episode of Just Liberty's Reasonably Suspicious podcast, co-hosted by me and Amanda Marzullo.

This month, Mandy and I reflect on the last month's tumultuous protests and calls for police reform in Texas and beyond.

Top Story
  • Reflecting on the George Floyd protests, including an interview with Chas Moore of the Austin Justice Coalition.
Fill in the Blank
  • Was George Floyd set up by a crooked Houston narcotics cop?
  • The policy behind the slogan of "Defunding Police"
  • Texas' anachronistic "riot" laws
The Last Hurrah
  • Abolishing cops ... in schools?
  • How cops spend their time
  • How does Austin police Chief Brian Manley still have a job?
N.b., in the discussion of Texas' anachronistic riot laws, I mentioned historical examples of suppression of the civil-rights movement in East Texas that were also touched on in the interview with Chas. Though I clarified at the end I was only talking about East Texas, let me say for the record I am absolutely aware of civil rights activism elsewhere in the state. I was discussing events in northeast Texas - in particular in Marshall - and referencing the history discussed in this recent blog post. Mea culpa for any confusion.

Find a transcript of this episode below the jump. Enjoy!

Transcript: June 2020 Reasonably Suspicious podcast co-hosted by Scott Henson and Amanda Marzullo

Amanda Marzullo: Hi, this is Amanda Marzullo and with my co-host Scott Henson, we're Reasonably Suspicious. Since our last podcast, the nation and really the world, has erupted in protest after George Floyd, who was born and raised in Houston, died in the street in Minneapolis with a police officer's knee on his neck. Texas witnessed protests everywhere in this state, including places like Texarkana, Amarillo, Tyler, Hondo, and Jasper where protest movements had mostly bypassed during the Civil Rights Era. Scott, did you participate in any protests?

Scott Henson: Considering this was the most important social uprising in America in the last 50 years, and that it directly confronted issues I've been working on my entire adult life, you would really think so, wouldn't you? But instead, because I'm COVID high risk after my cancer treatment, I spent the whole time holed up inside my house and following what happened online. I felt a lot like a Beyonce super fan who missed the big concert to attend your aunt's birthday. Just a little anticlimactic there. Better safe than sorry. I get lots of input on these topics anyway between the blog and this podcast. I don't feel like I need to take to the streets to be heard.

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah, I think you do a great job of raising your voice.

Scott Henson: Don't need to go outside and yell.

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah, no, not right now. Among the Texas based stars of recent police protests was the Austin Justice Coalition and it's leader, Chaz Moore, a long time friend of the podcast. Scott spoke to Chaz recently about the historical import of recent events and what newly energized activists in Texas should do to get engaged. Let's give it a listen.

Scott Henson: The last month has witnessed this massive upheaval surrounding policing. Probably, objectively, the largest social movement in America in 50 years. From your perspective, what's changed in the last month and what hasn't? Talk to me about the politics of the moment.

Chas Moore: I think the biggest change has been the conversation around policing, right? I think people, of course, like you, that has been at the forefront of the need for police reform and the need for police accountability, as well as the need for how we even think about policing in today's society. Then, you have people like me whose been around, in my only 32 Years of living, we've been having these conversations around police reform and the need to change police tactics and things of that nature. Now, it's a national conversation that everybody is a part of, well not everybody, but a very large percentage of Americans are leaning in around the conversation and dealing with if we even need police to go to every call, if we need police at non-criminal calls.

Then, of course the conversation around the allocation of funds for policing, right? From Austin, to California, to New York, everybody is seemingly I'm now very tuned in to critically looking at these massive police budgets. I don't think there's a city in America where the police budget is not substantially larger than other aspects of public safety and wellbeing. That has changed almost drastically in a matter of weeks, what hasn't changed is, Austin being the prime example, you look at the city ordinances that passed two or three weeks ago where city council really came out and did some key and very important things when it comes to banning choke holds and setting parameters to make sure we get to zero police deaths by, I believe in 2023.

Then, you look at the day after, right, like an APD officer has a guy on the ground and he's in a choke hold and his hand is very violently around his neck while his face is on the ground. Although the conversation-

Scott Henson: The day after Manley changed the policy!.

Chas Moore: Absolutely, with the newfound black activist group. While we're having these conversations around defunding police and reallocating not only resources around policing, but the role and responsibility of police, and while we still try to have reforms and policies in place to make sure we can hold bad officers accountable, we're still seeing police and state sanctioned violence whether it's against protesters or people just because they're black in like Atlanta or Houston. It's very much still the same, right? Which is very interesting. It's like everybody, or a large percentage of us are having this conversation around police reform and police direction, on policing as we know it heading into a new direction, except the police. Police are still out here being very much the same. I think it just goes to show that although we're at a very unique time in American history, we have a very, very long way to go.

Scott Henson: Right. I feel like, honestly, this project that this new social movement has begun is something that's actually going to take 10 years or more to accomplish. I mean, this is not something where you're just going to make a few changes in the budget and then it'll go away, or we just fire a few officers and that'll solve it. This is a very big project. We didn't get here by just one law change, or one bad Clinton crime bill. This was death by a thousand cuts. It was hundreds and hundreds of bad laws passed over the course of many decades. It's going to take quite a long time to roll it back, even if everyone's acting in good faith and everyone's on board with the change agenda. As you pointed out, the cops and the unions absolutely are not. I do think a lot of the folks who've been protesting, especially those who just showed up to the issue may not understand what an incredibly large task they've signed up for.

Chas Moore: Oh yeah, I mean absolutely. Yeah. I couldn't even say that any better if I have the words presented in front of me and just had to put them in order. I think that's very important for people to understand, right? Even when we look at the huge win that happened in Oakland, I believe yesterday, an organization called the Black Organizing Project, they had been fighting for a little bit more than a decade to get Oakland PD out of schools, right? It just goes to show you that this is not going to be six weeks or a two day fight. This is something that's going to take a very long time, because just like you said, in Texas especially, right? We ramped up and provided law enforcement and the police departments so many protections and really loosened the accountability metrics through state legislation and even local policy. That is going to take a very, very long time to roll back.

I hope people, as energized as they are when they're at the protests and rallies and the demonstrations, that they understand that this is definitely going to be a long haul. It's not going to be a quick battle. It's definitely a war.

Scott Henson: As you mentioned, I've been working on this stuff for quite a long time. One of the things you notice is reinforcements come in waves. For me, having done this for many years, after the Ferguson protest there was a wave of reinforcements that showed up. That's when you, and Sukyi McMahon, and the Austin Justice Coalition, and all the good movement energy surrounding that organization all of a sudden was here. Really, I've said many times, it's just been a game changer locally in Austin. I feel like one of the predictable things coming out of this last month is that there'll be a new wave of leadership showing up now. In Texas, we saw these police accountability protests, these Black Lives Matter protests in parts of the state that have never witnessed anything like this. I mean, when you're talking about deep east Texas, that's a place that the civil-rights movement of the 50s and 60s completely passed by.

They went the whole 1960s with no protests in Tyler or Lufkin or places like that. They're seeing those protests now. Places like Texarkana, or Hondo, or Vidor, or Jasper, places that are mostly known for terrible racist incidents that occurred had these significant protests. There are these new leaders cropping up all over the state, especially in these towns outside the major cities that have never witnessed this kind of activism before. If you were going to give advice to somebody in Texarkana, somebody in Amarillo, somebody who'd shown up at the protests or organized one, but they're in one of these towns where there's very little history of that type of work or existing activist groups to latch on to, what would be your advice to somebody in that situation? How should they proceed to try and make change in their community?

Chas Moore: I think the first thing I would say is just get comfortable, because again it's going to be a long haul. I can't even imagine the politics in the small rural areas, because like you said, for a lot of those areas if you and I were to go there today, it might feel like a time travel back in time, because the wave of civil rights movement and the wave of Black Lives Matter and all these kind of massive movements seem to kind of gloss over those communities. On one hand while I'm extremely glad that people in those communities are getting engaged, it's not like Austin to where it's always been this, although pseudo at times, this liberal wave and this liberal will to be the progressive and right thing.

The status quo is so firmly planted in a lot of those communities that it's going to take, I believe, quite some time to undo and unlearn and unpack a lot of the things that they need to do to kind of catch up to where we are in cities like Austin and Houston and Dallas. What we do know is that if you stay consistent, if you stay persistent with your message and your cause, you can definitely invoke the change that you wish to see. It's just really all about organizing and making sure who the target is, whether it's city council, or mayor, or whatever the form of government are in these smaller municipalities and stay on course and fight the good fight, if that's any advice at all.

Scott Henson: Well, it is. I feel like in any political process, the advantage always lies with the people who show up, right, the people who show up and do the work. In Austin, part of what happened was that the Austin Justice Coalition showed up and just began attending everything. Okay, there's a public safety committee that addresses these topics and we're going to go there and hear every presentation and give our input. Oh, you have a meet and confer contract that's negotiated. We're going to show up at every negotiation session and listen and take notes and learn and make our own proposals. I feel like every community has those types of opportunities, right? If you show up in any city council during budget season and listen to everything that's said and think critically about it, you're going to identify alternative ways of doing things that just aren't being proposed by the city manager or the police union. There are processes where you can engage.

Most people don't do that. Most people don't take advantage of those opportunities to participate in democratic governance, but they're built into the structure of how city council works. How a county commissioner's court works. There are opportunities for public input. You can get to know your public officials or the local media. I'm sure before you launched into all of this, you didn't know any politicians, or any newspaper reporters, or whatever. Now you know everyone in town.

Chas Moore: Absolutely. Yeah. I think that's very important because I think most Americans and most people around the world, because we're all inundated with institutions and systems have a bone to pick with said institutions or said systems and just want nothing at all to do with it. The danger with that is, while I get that completely, you can't just sit idly by and let these systems that are, you know, they don't have their ear to the street, right? They're not in the community. They're not feeling the person. They're not feeling the trickle down effects of the bad policy implementations or the bad legislation. It's kind of like a bully, right? Nobody likes a bully, but at some point you have to engage with that bully so you can get the bully off your back.

Amanda Marzullo: This was a great interview. Good job, Scott. One of the most important takeaways I think is Chas' point about being engaged, having a strategy, and sticking with it. Sort of that a lot of folks, particularly in protest movements, forget that it's important to have a target, one stakeholder or maybe a handful of stakeholders whose action you want to influence and to stay on that as opposed to berating people with a message, and that there's a difference.

Scott Henson: Well, and that's especially true in the criminal justice system because it is such a tangle of interrelated government entities. We have about 2,800 law enforcement agencies in Texas, including 254 Sheriff's departments and a couple of thousand police agencies. Then there's dozens of other agencies that get to have their own police force you would never even think of. The dental board in Texas has its own police force.

Amanda Marzullo: I wasn't aware of that, actually.

Scott Henson: It's crazy. There's a list of about 30 different types of entities that get to have them. Every kind of school and university, but then even like weird little small special districts that you wouldn't think would need their own police are authorized to have them. That's just on policing. Police arrest someone, they take them to the jail. Well, that's controlled by a different entity. The County commissioner's court decides the funding for the jail, even though they don't operate the jail. The judges make decisions about who stays locked up. As soon as you get into it, it's this Byzantine array of institutional interests. It's one thing to protest, it's another to devise a new system, a change in the system that all those different moving parts are accommodated.

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah, no, exactly. As an activist, your job is to really figure out what policy you want to change. Then, all of the collateral actors around that stakeholder that's making the change. Your target is first the stakeholder, and then other people who can influence them.

Scott Henson: And then rinse and repeat because there's many other stakeholders and everything that you change then influences other issues.

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah. If you do it right, every time you come into contact with a stakeholder, you're building a relationship that can be leveraged in future encounters. You're only going to get better and be more important the more you stay with it.

Scott Henson: Right. That's what I really hope most out of this movement. I mean, as I said to Chas, every time you see a big outpouring of reform energy, and this is the biggest we've seen since the 1960s in America, this is the biggest social movement in America since the late 60s. Every time this happens, you see lots of new energy show up. We saw new energy show up in places that are mind boggling. I mean, the idea that there's a couple of hundred people in Vidor, Texas who come to the Black Lives Matter rally is unbelievable. I mean, for Texas, that is a true game changer.

To the extent that anyone from areas like that really stays engaged and starts to actually intervene in local politics, that's going to make an enormous difference. We need people to be stepping it up and taking it to the next level in all those places where they showed up once. That's great. It's exciting that everyone showed up for this weird month long protest event that just occurred in America. If you're not there a year from now, if you're not there five years from now, then we're going to lose that momentum. The status quo can just soak up all that energy and stay exactly like it is now, which is sort of what it's designed to do. You know?

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah.

Scott Henson: Now it's time to play fill in the blank in which Mandy and I each suggest different ways to finish the same sentence. First up, as Mandy mentioned earlier, George Floyd was originally from Houston before he moved to Minneapolis several years ago. Reporting on his early years has revealed a remarkable coincidence. He was among the 160 people whom Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg had sent a letter to say he may have been framed by a lying narcotics cop named Gerald Goines and could be eligible to have his conviction overturned. Goines, listeners may recall, lied on an affidavit to justify a raid on a Houston home last year that left the homeowners dead, four officers, including Goines, injured and raised major questions about the state of narcotics enforcement in Houston. Mandy fill in the blank, George Floyd had a blank relationship with law enforcement.

Amanda Marzullo: Abusive. It's clear that there is a pattern of misconduct on the part of the police towards George and sadly, I don't think it's that uncommon.

Scott Henson: Yeah. I'm going to go with cursed. I think in retrospect it was a cursed relationship and we learned so much after his death about his Houston years and George Floyd was a fascinating character and someone who wanted to do big things with his life, wanted to change the world. In second grade, he wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice, if you can imagine. When he was a young man in his 20s, he rapped on some of the albums from DJ Screw, who was an incredibly influential hip hop artist in Houston. He was trying big things, wanted to do big things, wanted to change the world. And it's ironic that the world drug him down, the world beat him down, but he's going to end up changing the world in major, major ways. I find that to be an amazing story. It's remarkable, his life's path.

Amanda Marzullo: Defunding police is a theme that grew out of the George Floyd protests spawning widespread cause to reduce policing budgets and reinvest savings in social service oriented solutions to problems like addiction, homelessness, and mental illness. City councils in Austin and Dallas have already indicated they would attempt this, but elsewhere the idea has received pushback. Scott, fill in the blank defunding the police is ...

Scott Henson: I'm going to go with, for now, aspirational. I know there are people out there who truly want to abolish the police and Chaz Moore who we spoke to is one of them. They're very well meaning people who use that slogan and actually mean it. When you dig deep and talk to those folks, even they think that's something that can only happen at some point in the future. I mean, no one really imagines that we have all of the systems and services and institutions in place right now that would let you defund the police today. I think defund the police is the thing that fit on the cardboard sign that you could take to the protest. “Reduce police budgets and spend the savings on social-service-oriented approaches that would reduce crime” doesn't fit on the piece of cardboard.

Amanda Marzullo: Doesn't have the same ring.

Scott Henson: That's right. When you're translating this into policy, that's what that's going to look like. For me, I would prefer the terms like divestment and reinvestment, I feel like that's more accurate about what in the near term is going to be actually discussed and proposed at city councils. Again, that's never going to fit on the piece of cardboard.

Amanda Marzullo: I think I'm going to go with a game changer, because this buy-in for this has moved to the goalpost in police budgets and for everybody that's trying to push against law enforcement and oppressive practices.

Scott Henson: Very much.

Amanda Marzullo: Demonstrating that not only is there a consensus that we need to change the police, but there are folks who believe that the system is so problematic that it needs to be abolished gives momentum to a push to at a minimum start really cutting back on law enforcement activity, and having police focus only on violent crime, and an open up a discussion about how much oppression is ... Oppression as in use of force by the government on the citizenry. How much of that is appropriate? When is that appropriate? Like you said, it's a work in progress. It's going to take a long time for things to balance out.

Scott Henson: There really are huge swaths of what the police are doing that it would be easy to imagine someone else doing.

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah.

Scott Henson: The idea that the police are the front lines for dealing with addiction.

Amanda Marzullo: It's ridiculous.

Scott Henson: That doesn't make a lot of sense. That they're first in line dealing with mental health crises in many situations causes more problems than it solves. That they're first in line with dealing with homelessness, neither the police nor the homeless people like that. You can just go down the line and there's some things that probably still need to occur, but that need to get moved out from under them. They don't need to be in charge of forensics. They probably don't need to be in charge of victim services. There's a lot of things that you don't need a badge and a gun to accomplish. That, to me, is the import of this moment.

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah. I think the only thing that I'd add to that is sort of a reorientation of law enforcement and its mission and revisiting it and how culture within departments, that it really is, one, a public service, and two, it has an obligation to protect everybody, even the people that are viewed as having engaged in criminal activity.

Scott Henson: Numerous protesters around the state, including more than 50 in Fort Worth, were arrested on rioting charges during the recent protests. It appears most or all of these were later dropped by prosecutors. The Texas rioting statute was created in 1965, is written incredibly broadly, and was a product of Dixiecrat, anti-civil rights sensibilities that don't make a lot of sense today. Under the law, a riot includes quote, "An assemblage of seven or more persons which substantially obstructs governmental functions or services or physical action deprives any person of a legal right or disturbs any person in the enjoyment of a legal right." Mandy fill in the blank, Texas definition of rioting is ...

Amanda Marzullo: Absurd. It was very hard to come up with activity that seven or more people could engage in public that wouldn't be a riot.

Scott Henson: Exactly.

Amanda Marzullo: And fall within the ambit of it. I mean, the only upside to this law is that it is so poorly written that it is essentially unenforceable. That doesn't stop law enforcement from arresting people.

Scott Henson: Right. In fact, that appears to kind of be the point is just to give them carte blanche to arrest anybody at the scene, and if you need to dismiss charges later, then it's easy and justifiable.

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah. It's hard to even know how meaningful the requirement that you've committed a crime to be arrested is in any case, because there's so many problematic offenses in our code, but yeah, it's not good.

Scott Henson: I'm going to say intentionally anti-democratic. This law was created in 1965, explicitly in reaction to the civil rights protests of that era. For those who aren't aware of the history, Texas had a ruthless record of backlash against the civil rights movement here. The NAACP was essentially banished from Texas courts in the late 50s. The only example of civil rights era protests we really had [in northeast Texas] was students at a historically black college in Marshall, Texas, Wiley College had a visit from Martin Luther King Jr. The administration had opposed having King there. The students had him anyway and afterwards they went and sat in at the Woolworth's downtown, just like you saw in Greenville or elsewhere. The backlash was intense. They brought in dogs and the fire hoses, they fired the faculty member who had invited Martin Luther King. Then, that summer, they fired every single faculty member who had not supported the administration in opposing his visit and were completely ruthless.

There really were no civil rights protests in East Texas after that. That's the context in which this statute was written, is that we're just going to give the police tools to completely crush this movement in Texas. Oh, I should add that the governor at the time of that Wiley College incident specifically red baited the fellow who had invited Dr. King and fired him as a communist. Explicitly for that reason. This has some ugly roots in terms of Texas backlash against civil rights, seeing it used today as sort of, "Oh, we'll just round everybody up and arrest you in the civil rights protest, even though we're going to have to dismiss it later." It's an ugly parallel. I feel like this probably shouldn't even be on the books anymore. There's nothing that's truly a riot that isn't already a crime.

Amanda Marzullo: Yeah, no. I mean, if you're rioting, you're clearly engaging in disorderly conduct, like destruction of property.

Scott Henson: Obstructing a peace officer. There's going to be something.

Amanda Marzullo: Assault, there are a lot of things that are going to be in there and it does make sense to break it down according to the conduct that someone actually engages in, instead of the catch all crime that is sort of nebulous.

Scott Henson: Now it's time for our rapid fire segment called The Last Hurrah. Mandy, are you ready?

Amanda Marzullo: I'm ready. Disability Rights Texas, Texas Appleseed, and several other groups have approached Texas's largest school districts asking them to eliminate police in their schools. Is this the right approach?

Scott Henson: It absolutely is. When you talk about abolishing police, the school police are where I would begin. In Houston in particular, they have more police officers at the Houston independent school district than they do counselors and social workers combined. They have a huge number of police officers. Their number of counselors and social workers falls far below the national recommendations for what they should really have. We've also seen great research here in Texas showing that having a police officer on campus increases the number of low level offenses that students are charged with just because the cops are there and has to do something. I think that's a great place to start.

An analysis of data on phone calls published in the New York times found that 1% of calls to police involve violent crime and police departments spend about 4% of their time overall investigating violent offenses. A third or more of calls address non-criminal topics. Do these small numbers surprise you?

Amanda Marzullo: No, not at all. I think it's been well known for a long time that the public is constantly calling on law enforcement to perform services that have nothing to do with a crime. It's really just showing how they're being overused and overextended. Now, there are sort of non violent crime associated things that they can do, like patrolling or identifying conditions that are conducive to crime that aren't within that category, but you really want to keep law enforcement in the crime prevention sphere, limit them as much as possible.

Okay. Last one, the Austin city council recently passed a resolution declaring they have quote, "No confidence that current Austin police department leadership intends to implement the policy and culture changes required to end the disproportionate impact of police violence." End quote, a majority of council members have expressly called for the police chief to resign. Scott, why is Brian Manley still Austin's police chief?

Scott Henson: I am utterly baffled. I thought that once the city council did this no confidence vote and the majority of council members had spoken out, that that would be it for him. At this point, the city manager, Spencer Cronk seems to be digging in his heels and it may be that he has to go for Brian Manley to go. I'm amazed that it's gotten this far.

All right. We're out of time, but we'll try and do better the next time. Until then this is Scott Henson with Just Liberty.

Amanda Marzullo: And I'm Amanda Marzullo. Goodbye and thanks for listening.

Scott Henson: You can subscribe to the Reasonably Suspicious podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud and listen to it on my blog, Rich for Breakfast. If you listen to our podcast on Google Play, you'll be able to hear it on YouTube Music after you transfer your account, which you should definitely do. We'll be back next month with more and hopefully better news. Until then keep fighting for criminal justice reform. It's the only way it's going to happen.


Gadfly said...

Grits, this probably won't surprise you, but ... some of the real nutters on Twitter claim George Floyd didn't die ... that it was all a false flag.

Oil Lease said...

Funny you say that. It's difficult to believe anything these days. Even when you "think" you saw something, it often turns out to be wrong. Just yesterday I mentioned to the wife(since nothing surprises me anymore and won't until politicians do the right thing ha ha ha)that I wouldn't be surprised to some day see a video of George Floyd having a tropical drink on the beach at some south sea island. Yep, I'm that jaded about everything NOW, now that the Fed used an attempt to kill off the population and destroy the United States, not to mention the members of all other nations, but the United States most of all because we're the only country I'm aware of where people can be legally armed, the very thing standing between us being pure, out and out slaves and only semi-slaves with firearms.

Steven Michael Seys said...

The more I see police acting contrary to the law in large urban centers, the more glad I am that I moved to the mountains. The police in rural North Carolina are simply awesome in how they treat regular people, black, brown or white.

Steven Michael Seys said...

On another note: I met Big Floyd in TDCJ, and I'm certain that he would be appalled at the small minority of "protesters" who commit acts of violence in his name. George Floyd always stood up for those weaker than himself in prison, and he never considered race. I know my life is diminished by his murder.