Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Protest fallout, remembering George Floyd, abolishing police in schools, coronavirus and the courts, and other stories

Let's clear a few browser tabs with a roundup of odds and ends that merit Grits readers' attention:

Austin city council ready for its close up on police reform
First, on Thursday, the Austin City Council will hear 5 #cjreform resolutions including a directive to strengthen Austin PD's use of force policy and another calling for a reduction in the police department's budget. Council offices report having received so many thousands of emails and phone calls that their systems are failing and staff are swamped! See Just Liberty's summary of the resolutions (including a link for people who want to sign up to speak), and here's an Austin Justice Coalition petition calling for, among other things, a $100 million reduction in the police department budget. The Austin Statesman ran a feature this week on how recent protests are putting more pressure on the city manager to remove Chief Brian Manley, though regular Grits readers won't find much there they don't already know.

Remembering George Floyd
George Floyd's funeral is today in Houston, his hometown. The Houston Chronicle this week ran a nice profile of Floyd's Houston years, adding to what we learned in Mike Hall's Texas Monthly profile on the same topic. Grits still can't get over the fact that Floyd was one of the people to whom the Harris County DA's office sent a letter informing them an old drug conviction was based solely on the testimony of disgraced narcotics cop Gerald Goines. It's possible he could have been eligible to have that conviction overturned via habeas corpus, but now he'll never have the chance.

Polling demonstrates support for demonstrations, de-policing
We're starting to see polling in the wake of recent police-accountability protests. The first two I've seen have been from Data for Progress, and now there's a Washington Post-Schar School poll, covered in this news story. The DFP poll in particular found bipartisan support for taking issues like addiction and mental health out of the purview of law enforcement and creating a "new first-responder agency" to deal with them. Both polls found the public broadly supported the protests and think American policing needs to change. MORE: The New York Times reports on another poll finding massive new support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Abolish school police
There has been lots of discussion lately of calls to "abolish police," and your correspondent may soon address some of those topics in more detail. As I said in Texas Monthly, I'm more for radically scaling back police functions than full-blown abolition, though I agree with many of the arguments abolitionists are making.  But one place where Grits has no qualms about an abolitionist stance is police in schools: I've been on board with this agenda for years. This week, several organizations formally called on Houston ISD to eliminate its police department and instead contract with local agencies who would respond only to emergency situations, reported the Houston Chronicle. Yes, yes, yes! This would free up resources that could be better used for other purposes. Houston ISD employs more cops than counselors and social workers, who are understaffed throughout the district. Reported the Chronicle: "State data shows HISD employed one counselor for every 900 students in 2019-20, well below the 1-to-250 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association. The district also staffed one social worker for every 6,350 students, far from the National Association of Social Work’s recommended 1-to-250 ratio."

Judges violate Abbott executive order without consequence
Some judges in Harris County are releasing inmates in violation of Greg Abbott's executive order on jails when they would otherwise be eligible for release based on good-time credits. And guess what? Just like the Texas Supreme Court said, nobody is arresting them for it. Because that was always stupid, obviously unconstitutional, and never going to happen.

Coronavirus and the courts: Smith County edition
At the Tyler Morning Telegraph, Cory McCoy has a great article on how the coronavirus has impacted the local court system. Their biggest problem is how to conduct jury trials, which have been temporarily suspended. But other changes have been positive, such as "an increase in remote communication in jail, nonviolent offenders spending less time behind bars and the ability to more quickly move misdemeanor cases." There's also a good discussion of marijuana cases, which have been complicated by the state's inability to test to distinguish it from hemp. Smith County is one of the jurisdictions where the District Attorney chose to continue prosecuting pot cases even though they cannot test. So, these cases are dragging out with defendants paying supervision fees and undergoing weekly urine testing in the mean time. That sounds like a big waste, and is really an oppressive policy for such low-level misdemeanor defendants, considering most Americans support legalization of recreational marijuana use. 


Anonymous said...

My understanding was that a big driver behind "school resource officers" was that an administrator paging a policeman didn't generate a report the same as calling the police department. Which I suppose in some cases keeps kids from being pushed into the system, but anecdotally I was told at least one officer spent an uncomfortable amount of time talking about teacher perpetrated sexual abuse without having to file very much paperwork that could be embarrassing to the district...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Haven't heard that one. My recollection is that the ISD cops really took off in the '80s in response to the Drug War.

In practice, my understanding is having cops in the schools tends to push more kids into the system because they're just there every day and have to do something.

Most of the pushback so far has been to raise the specter of school shooters.

Anonymous said...

Just because no one is arresting the Harris County judges does not mean the order is illegal (or stupid), it just means no one wants the headache. I can jaywalk in front of a cop and not get a ticket, it's still illegal.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:09 - Read the Texas Supreme Court's explanation why their absolute immunity protects them.

Anonymous said...

I read it, it implies they can use it as a defense, it doesn't say they can't be arrested for a crime. Doesn't matter no one is going to test the order.