Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Time for the Texas #cjreform movement to get back to basics

Your correspondent hasn't been writing on Grits during the latest special session because it wasn't a time when Texas state leaders were willing to listen to reasoned argument, and this humble opuscule has little else to offer.

As I wrote after the regular session ended, it's important to be clear about what's happening here: Without exaggeration, we're witnessing the spearpoint of American fascism piercing the body politic in Texas. One is not proving Godwin's Law by observing this, it's just a fact.

Abortion laws based on mass snitching regimens that read like something out of The Handmaid's Tale. Gun statutes that appear to have been authored by Yosemite Sam. More border wall building, this time with DPS troopers making petty arrests for trespassing and mass magistrations being held in county-jail parking lots. Making the bail system harder on poor people. Homelessness rendered a crime. High spending levels for police mandated. Dozens and dozens of new crimes (including a first-degree felony for doctors performing unauthorized abortions). And everything including new voting restrictions done in a highly partisan, often retaliatory fashion.

Republicans were angry and much of what passed this year was done to punish their opposition for daring challenge them in swing districts or publicly talk about negative impacts from their policies.

Grits largely blames the Governor and Dan Patrick. Speaker Dade Phelan appeared well-intentioned, but the rookie Speaker was steamrolled by the other two and, in the end, was afraid to exercise his power in ways that would displease either of them.

As the poet long ago lamented, the best lacked all conviction while the worst were full of passionate intensity.

At the state level, it's only going to get worse before it gets better. The only way to stop what's happening is for Republicans to pay an electoral price. That can't happen until November 2022, and conventional wisdom says it won't, even then.

Republicans should be vulnerable, having utterly vacated the political center, but Democrats have so far fielded no credible candidates to challenge them, and proved with their failure to hold their quorum break that the party is devoid not just of strategic thinking but fundamentally of an identity as a coherent group. Republicans are united around a dystopic, right-wing ideology that is unworkable and harmful but at least consistent. The Democratic field brings to mind Will Rogers' observation more than a century ago: "I belong to no organized political party: I'm a Democrat."

At the local level, there are more opportunities. A lot of the energy from protests last year continues to animate less high-profile but still significant changes, particularly surrounding mental-health first response and addiction. Local groups are beginning to focus on police contracts, which by their nature are long-term fights that may not see results for many years, but which alter the terms of debate locally. And shifting the culture of policing is still on the table in a variety of ways.

None of this will happen quickly. But we can already see a desire to divert people out of the local jails during COVID, especially when their problem is primarily mental health, housing or addiction, starting to align with those trying to get police out of the social-services business. Where those collaborations flower, local work can produce big changes for people in the real world, even in the current political climate. That's where the criminal-justice reform movement should focus now. Unless and until statewide Republicans - particularly Abbott and Patrick - lose at the ballot box, there's nothing to do at the state level anymore but play defense against the bad stuff.


Gadfly said...

Conventional wisdom in my personal blogging corner, re elections, says Gilberto Hinojosa must have nudies of somebody to continue to stay in power as TDP jefe.

Phelps said...

I remember when justice reform was about getting innocent men out of prison.

Anonymous said...

The Texas Republicans have also targeted public education, prohibiting teachers from speaking about race-ethnicity and civil rights. Soon, they will most likely target the universities. How the Republicans can decry cancel culture and outlaw free speech in the classroom is beyond comprehension.

Julie Howell said...

Thank you so much for this post. Sometimes I feel like Alice in Wonderland, only it is a deadly Wonderland.

Leslie J. Smith M.A. said...

Charles McMurrey said...

THANKS for the post. Sadly I agree! What I do not understand is how the Republicans get away with funding billions for border security and fail to provide funding for an effective Texas criminal justice system.

If Republicans truly supported effective criminal justice they would fund additional criminal courts and the correctional systems. Police are just the starting point of the criminal justice system.

Republicans have DEFUNDED the Texas criminal justice system.

Currently it is plain there is NOT an adequate number of criminal courts and prosecutors to provide justice without the current extreme delay due to the massive backlog of criminal cases. Delayed justice is creating a serious repeat crime issue.

The same underfunded problem exists with juvenile probation, adult probation, prison guard staffing and the Texas parole system.

We all need to address issue of a defunded or seriously underfunded Texas criminal justice system which is more than just the police.

TheLawEnforcementProject said...

Felony charge for doctors performing "unauthorized" (that means Illegal btw) abortions ?! That's sounds like progress

Unknown said...

There is much complaining and hand-wringing but there are very few leaders to appeal to the democrats and independents. Beto has been a voice but seems to hit a roadblock when there are few other potential leaders emerging. If the voting restrictions just passed along with the supreme courts failure to take down the Texas Abortion law is allowed to proceed without a gathering of sufficient objection from our common citizens, we are doomed to an increasingly autocratic system of government. The age old problem of those most negatively effected not realizing the cause of their dilemma continues. Civic education is needed, not as much for our school age students, but for our adults! Time is of the essence and voting matters.